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Volume 5822

A Soldier of Poloda:

Further Adventures Beyond the Farthest Star
By Lee Strong
Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Master of Adventure
September 1, 1875 to March 19, 1950
© 2012 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Incorporated
All Rights Reserved 


2: First I Died… And Then Things Got Worse

 Despite someone’s best efforts, I didn’t die.

 I just felt like I had.

 When I woke up, my first thought was pain.  Someone had beaten me rather thoroughly while I was unconscious.  They didn’t seem to have broken any bones but every muscle in my body ached.

 My second thought was to wonder if I was on yet another planet.  The last time that I blacked out, I wound up on Two Moon Planet.  Now I was naked again but in an obvious prison cell.  Poorly poured, cheap, gray concrete above, below, and on three sides; black metal bars and door on the fourth side; and a naked electric light something or other overhead.  I say “something or other” because it was spiral rather than spherical.  For all I knew, I was now on Three Moon Planet somewhere else.

 That happy thought was interrupted when a green shirted guard appeared in the corridor on the other side of the bars.  He grunted something in that not-really-Russian language at me.  I groaned “Good morning, sergeant.  I’d like breakfast in bed today,” in German.  “And a bed if you don’t mind.”  I was lying on the concrete floor.  I repeated it in Russian when he didn’t seem to understand German.

 He made some comment that I didn’t understand but unlocked the door in the bars and gestured for me to step out of the cage.  When I didn’t move, he pulled a heavy truncheon out of a holster, slapped his hand menacingly, and gestured again.  As Al Capone said, a smile and a submachine gun gets you more than a smile alone.

 I got up, muscles complaining bitterly, and limped down the corridors that he indicated with grunting and occasional truncheon taps.  I noted that his insignia were geometric symbols similar but not identical to what Herr Slugger and the sideman had worn.

 The prison motif continued for some time before giving way to a different section with a higher class prison motif.  Every cell in the lower class area had at least one prisoner in it, all dressed in black coveralls and rags that had been coveralls.  Most of them were sleeping on the bare floors.  Some of them stared at me apathetically.  Apparently naked prisoners weren’t uncommon on Three Moon Planet (or wherever we were).  The place stank of too many humans enclosed for too long a time without bathing.  Periodically, there were control points where guards with guns in fortified cages kept an eye on things.  If anyone managed to take a truncheon away from the first guard, the second guard would shoot the troublemaker while being immune to retaliation.  Nice.

 The higher class section was separated from the more obvious jail by walls and a checkpoint.  The checkpoint’s resemblance to a Nazi police station was unmistakable.  My guard vouched for my good character and we left the station for the higher class district.

 This section of town wasn’t really that much nicer than the jail but the concrete construction was better quality, the light fixtures were shaded, there were doors in the walls rather than bars, and people passed back and forth as they would in a cheap hotel corridor.  The people were sallow faced white men and women dressed either in poison ivy green or brick red shirts and coveralls.  There were more red shirts than green shirts but the greens were armed with truncheons, knives and submachine pistols.  The reds got out of the greens’ way without being told.  Two greens shouted at a red and he stopped and produced papers without a word.  Green shirted cops and red shirted civilians?

 There were also posters on the walls that instantly reminded me of Nazi propaganda sheets in Occupied France.  Scowling faces and heroic airmen and soldiers exhorted the passers by.  All of the military characters wore gray and the scowlers wore green.  Perhaps I was still on Two Moon Planet after all.  One ugly blue gargoyle feasted on graphically displayed human bodies clad in brick red.  The lettering on the posters was mostly geometric symbols.  It looked like some math teacher had invented his own alphabet.

 My escort and I wandered through corridors and down stairs until we came to an even higher class jail with two green shirts ostentatiously guarding the place.  My guard told them what a swell guy I was.  One door guard checked a list and apparently found my name.  We went in.  The whole procedure reminded me of pompous doormen outside a second rate night club.  We picked up more escorts inside the even higher class jail.

 This section of the jail reminded me of some cheesy government office building.  There were desks, filing cabinets, and secretaries working machines that looked like typewriters crossed with Ouija boards.  Everyone wore green with silver trim and seemed to know what they were doing.  Put everyone in better quality clothes and we could be visiting Dad’s office back in Boston.

 Eventually, I was ushered into a large office with yet another guard at the door.  Inside, the hatchet faced officer from the trapdoor incident was seated behind a desk suitable for the President of the United States.  The valkyrie was seated on the left side of the desk and the gold costumed redhead to her left.

 On the right side of the desk were a double handful of gray shirts and green shirts.  Each color coded group stood together but apart from the others.  I recognized the sideman, looking very ill at ease.  When he recognized me, his discomfort was replaced with raw hatred.  Oh well; I wasn’t expecting a Christmas card from him anyway.

 I was the only one in the room without clothes on.  Everyone looked at me appraisingly.  Then the redhead blushed and turned away.

 I recognized the interrogation techniques from OSS training.  Take away a person’s clothes and he feels embarrassed and off balance.  Subject him to physical discomfort like sleeping on a hard floor and he feels weak and helpless.  Surround him with enemies and he feels defenseless and unable to resist his captors’ demands.

 I certainly didn’t appreciate being the object of the floor show but there wasn’t much I could do about it except brazen it out.  The officer started to speak but I interrupted and asked for two suits of clothes, one for business, and one for casual travel about town.  He cut me off while I was giving him my measurements.

 The interview was another League of Nations session.  The gray shirts and green shirts all shouted not-really-Russian and pointed at me.  I tried my previous selection of languages again, declaimed in Latin, and even recited “Jabberwocky.”  I also gestured a lot.  Nothing seemed to work.  At one point, the sideman put his hand on his gun while screaming at me.  Another gray shirt restrained him and spoke directly to the officer.  The latter seemed to be nodding in agreement.  Both green and gray shirts looked at me like I was a Thanksgiving turkey.

 Everyone seemed to be in agreement when the valkyrie spoke up.  The green shirt officer listened to her and nodded.  She spoke to the redhead in a language that sounded like Verdi sung in Japanese.  The redhead looked carefully at my face, shook her head, and answered in the same language.

 The valkyrie questioned me in not-really-Japanese, not-really-Russian, and what I thought were three other languages.  I listened carefully but wound up shaking my head and making helpless gestures again.  We reached another impasse.

 There was a loud thumping sound somewhere in the distance.  Everyone stopped talking, shouting and gesticulating to listen for something.  I had no idea what we were listening for but I listened, too.  The thumping was repeated several times before it died away.

 In the silence that followed, the senior gray shirt spoke up again.  One of his gestures included a slashing motion across his own throat.  I was pretty sure that he was offering to cut mine rather than the other way around.

 The officer was on the verge of agreement when the valkyrie interrupted.  What-ever she said, none of the gray shirts or green shirts liked it and they said so.  She turned a gorgon stare on them and they fell silent.  After a few more words, the officer nodded.

 He gave some orders and my personal guard force marched me out of the office.  This time, they locked me up in a different cell, this one in the office building area.  The concrete was smoother and better quality, there was a bed, and the last occupant had bathed.  After a while, another guard fetched me a set of black coveralls and my dignity.  There were white symbols on the chest and back.

 I was still a prisoner but I had moved up in the world.

 Whatever world I was on.

 The next phase of the interrogation was more dignified.

 Every morning….   I called it “morning” because it was the time after I woke up from a sleeping period that felt like night.  The periods of sleeping and activity felt like Earth days but I hadn’t actually seen a Sun or a clock since I arrived.

Every morning a black clad servant brought me a bowl of breakfast stew or goulash in my cell.  Most of the components seemed to be rubber or lard seasoned with dandruff but hunger really is the best condiment.  A few minutes later, a green shirted guard came to escort me to the valkyrie’s office.  If I was slow, he used his truncheon on my shoulders or my stew bowl.  Since I had glimpsed a gun toting guard outside the door, I settled for making a mental note of his face and learning the rules.

 After breakfast, the guard took me to the valkyrie’s office.  The redhead was escorted there at the same time.  They’d taken away her entertainer’s costume of gold sequins and red boots and replaced it with a black coverall.  I noticed that her white symbols were identical to mine except for one.  I suspected the symbols were prisoner inventory numbers.  She was clearly frightened by the whole experience.  Nonetheless she had her chin up.

 We occasionally had to wait outside the valkyrie’s door so I started saying “Good morning” in English.  She responded in softly spoken Japanese Verdi.  Once I recited a list of Japanese cities and islands on the off chance that she might recognize them but she wrinkled her brow and shook her head.  I introduced myself as Thomas Randolph which she shortened to “Tomas Ran” and then to “Ran.”  She was Loris Kiri.  I started by calling her “Miss Kiri” but quickly learned that Loris was her family name and Kiri her personal name.

 The valkyrie was always doing paperwork when we were allowed into her office and into hard plastic chairs in front of her Cabinet officer sized desk.  These people used plastic where Americans would make things out of metal or wood.  A green shirted goon stood quietly behind us.

 I recognized more techniques from OSS training.  Making us wait while she shuffled papers emphasized that she was The Queen of her little kingdom while Kiri and I were Peasants.  But the look on her face when she put the paper down and focused on us caused me to suspect that she was genuinely glad for the break in the administrative routine.

 She started off conversationally at first.  Another trick that OSS trainers warned agents about.  The Queen was trying the tea and sympathy approach first.  If we didn’t cooperate, her goon would give us a truncheon massage to soften us up.

 She talked to both of us alternating between her own not-really-Russian and Kiri’s native not-really-Japanese.  Kiri replied in monosyllables and eventually clammed up entirely.  The valkyrie leaned over and casually slapped her prisoner in the face.  Hard.  Kiri’s head jerked sideways and she fell out of her chair onto the floor.  Also hard.

 I jumped up, shouting that there was no need for that.  As I said before, my mouth lives a life of its own.

 The guard behind me must have allowed his mind to wander:  he didn’t catch me in time.

 The valkyrie did.

 Her slapping hand came up and punched me in the mouth.  Hard.

 I saw it coming and tensed my muscles up.  That softened the blow but it still hurt.

 Then the guard gave my head a short truncheon massage and I blacked out.


 This was becoming a bad habit.

 One that could easily get me killed.

 It was time for a new strategy.  Step One:  Don’t get killed.

 The next day, the valkyrie began teaching Kiri and me the not-really-Russian language, Kapar.  She seemed to relish her role as a school teacher and we learned quickly.  I had had the benefit of English and French at home, German and Portuguese while working for Dad, and Latin and Russian in college.  It was my facility with languages that got me an invitation to join the OSS and free trips to France and, ultimately, Two Moon Planet.  Kiri was originally monolingual but she was both smart and industrious.

 School was frequently interrupted by those mysterious thumping sounds but no one else asked any questions so I played dumb for the moment.  I noticed that Kiri smiled ever so slightly after the noises ceased but I never got a chance to ask her about them in private.

 We learned more than just how to bark and grunt like good little Kapars.

 Among other things, we learned that our school teacher was Sellon Sura.  Like Kiri, Sura put her personal name last.  She was a Special Assistant to Virrul, the Kapar governor of the city of Gerris in the province of Allos on the continent of Epris on the planet Poloda.  We never learned what Virrul’s personal name was, or even if he had one.

 Since Sura was still trying the tea and sympathy approach, I got in a couple of questions before she really started to work on me.

 “Special Assistant Sellon, who are the Kapars?”

 “We Kapars are the Natural Rulers of Poloda,” she proclaimed with complete sincerity.  “Our society is the most logical and enduring known to mankind.”

 I nodded sagely, drinking in everything I could.  “Why is Kapar society the most logical society?”

 “Because it is based on warfare, the natural state of mankind.  Unlike lesser societies, we Kapars realize that man is naturally a fighting creature.  Therefore, we are a completely military society with no waste or inefficiency to hinder us.  We are strong because we have eliminated sentiment and other soft emotions that weaken human beings and cause failure.  The validity of the Kapar way of life is proved by the fact that, under the leadership of the Most High Pom Da, we have conquered four of the five continents of Poloda and will soon conquer the remaining one.”

 “Not while a single Unisan lives!” interrupted Kiri.  Her soft voice was edged with steel.

 Sura leaned over and slapped Kiri again.  The captive woman hit the floor again.  Conscious of the guard behind me, I didn’t move.

 While Kiri was picking herself up off the floor and reseating herself, Sura leaned back and waved her hand as if brushing away flies.  “Yes, you Unisans are resisting our inevitable advance for the moment.  But tens of other nations said the same thing and where are they now?”

 Kiri massaged her cheek silently.  The she wolf went on.  “The answer is that they’re all under Kapar rule.  Zurris, Ithris, Allos, Punos – the continents of Epris, Heris, Auris and Karis – disorganized, pleasure seeking rabble a hundred years ago – Kapar colonies today.”

 She leaned forward again, a cat eyeing a mouse.  “As Unis will be one day.  When your weird little technocratic government surrenders, perhaps the Pom Da will name me governor of Unis.”  Her voice lowered, almost purring.  “You can live in your old apartment if you like.”  She paused.  “As my servant, of course.”  She threw her head back, black mane flying, laughing like Satan.

 Kiri clearly wanted to spit in Sura’s face but she shrank into her chair.  Captivity in the Kapar empire and Sura’s boundless confidence were daunting.  It was all too easy to imagine Sellon Sura sitting in the Unisan equivalent of the White House.

 When her majesty wound down, I ventured another question, “And what will you Kapars do when you’ve conquered Unis?”

 Sura shifted to face me.  Her face had the classical beauty of a Greek goddess – and her pale blue eyes a hint of madness.

 “We will conquer the other planets of Omos, our Sun.  We would undoubtedly have flown to Antos or Tonos years ago if the war with Unis had not demanded all our resources.”

 Well, you couldn’t say that the Kapars didn’t think big.  Even Hitler hadn’t made any territorial demands on Mars or Venus. 

It also meant that, sooner or later, the Kapars would be gunning for Earth.

“I don’t know the planets by those names.  Which one is closer to the Sun and which one further out?”

Sura frowned.  “None of them, of course.  The eleven planets and the atmosphere belt are all the same distance from Omos.”  Kiri looked at me with a puzzled expression and nodded her head. 

I blinked.  I’m no astronomer but I did stay awake in high school science class.  I couldn’t think of any reason why two women on the opposite sides of a hundred year long war would both lie about something like this and do so without coordinating ahead of time.  My working theory had been that Poloda was one of the nine planets in Earth’s solar system.  Most likely Mars, which has two moons.  But, eleven total planets meant that Poloda was in some other solar system altogether.  Ditto the fact that they shared a common orbit.  Ditto the fact that they shared an atmosphere belt.  Theoretically an airplane could fly between Omos’ planets much less Robert Goddard’s proposed rocket ships.  Wow…!

For all I knew, I could be in another galaxy…!

I wanted to say “Impossible”….


I pinched myself.  I still wasn’t dreaming.

Even if things felt like a nightmare.

Unfortunately, my pause to absorb Polodan astronomy gave Sura time to remember that she was supposed to be interrogating me instead of the other way around.  She started in on me personally and then proceeded through Earthly astronomy, geography, history and science.  She had a mind like a steel trap and I was the one in the trap.

Fortunately, I had had time to get my story straight.

Sellon Sura was clearly a very smart person and she knew it.  As the special assistant to the head jailer, she held a lot of power including the power to kill Kiri and me without batting an eyelash.

But she had weaknesses as well, including the facts that she was a Kapar and that she wasn’t a professional interrogator.

Despite the fact that they’d conquered four-fifths of a planet the size of Earth, the Kapars were about as subtle as so many bricks.  They valued strength, military glory, and the rewards of conquest.  Ordinary human intelligence seemed to be valued only as it contributed to conquest.  The green shirt/gray shirt thought process seemed to run:  Tomas Ran is an enemy; therefore kill him; end of problem.  Period.  End of report.

Sura was smart enough to realize that I must be a special if not extraordinary case.  If I wasn’t a Unisan super-spy, I might well be something worse.  Possibly an advance scout for an alien invasion!  After all, I’d appeared buck naked in the middle of a military reservation without any apparent means of transportation, killed two of their armed soldiers with their own weapons, and had only been captured by dumb luck.  Why was I so confident that I could take on the whole Kapar nation single handedly, and were there any more at home like me?

It amused me to think of myself as the Man From Mars but from the Kapar point of view that idea made a lot of sense.

So Sura had intervened with Virrul and made it her project to find who or what I was. 

Smart girl. 

Dangerous woman. 

Very, very dangerous woman.

Unfortunately for her, she didn’t have the time or training to do the job right.

No professional would have allowed us as much free time as the ice queen did.  Every day, Kiri and I were marched back to our cells where we spent afternoons and evenings twiddling our thumbs.  I didn’t know what the duties of a “Special Assistant” were but they obviously consumed a lot of Sura’s time.  She should have handed us over to some professionals who would have kept after us without a break until we cracked.  As it was, we had time to think….

In OSS training, they try to teach agents that success comes from outthinking the enemy, not just having a bigger and better gun.  Dad said pretty much the same thing about business.  In OSS, they tell you that, when you talk to the enemy, listen to what they’re saying, understand their thinking, give them what they’re looking for, and keep your story as simple and as truthful as practical.  It makes the story easier to remember and harder for the enemy to unravel.  And if they think you’re cooperating, they’re less likely to torture you until you reveal something important.

If I said that Earth people valued liberty, peace and prosperity, the Kapars would laugh their heads off and begin planning a real life war of the worlds that same day.  The only thing that a given Kapar would respect is a bigger and nastier Kapar.

 So I told Special Assistant to the City Governor Sellon Sura the complete and total truth about Earth.

 More or less.

 I told her that Kiri called me Tomas Ran and that I had no idea how I got to Poloda.  Sura’s eyebrows practically climbed off her head but she kept listening.

I told her about how crappy life was on Earth and the other Solar planets.  I didn’t tell her about dawn over Cape Cod, or hiking in the Berkshires on a summer day, or Currier & Ives snowfalls.  I told her about rainstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, ice ages, tidal waves, floods, landslides and earthquakes.  I told her about every single one of Earth’s nations, states, territories and cities that I could remember.  Since Poloda had fought its way down to two rival nations, just listing Earth’s fifty or so countries and hundreds of lesser political units seemed to boggle the Queen’s mind.  She gave up trying to memorize everything and started writing notes.  Sura had never read “The Purloined Letter.”

 Kiri sat quietly in her chair, but her eyes keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger….

 When we got to Earthly history, I told her about the Roman Republic, the Empire, Christianity….  That led into a discussion of religion.  Sura only had a vague notion of what I was talking about since the Kapars had discarded religion along with love, honor and other “sentiments.”  Very interesting.  I dropped the subject.

 By the time I got up to the 20th Century, Sura’s eyes were glazing over.  So I slipped in the Martian and Mongonian invasions as if they were real events.  Sura couldn’t tell the difference; it was all news to her.

 And when I described the Second World War, I mentioned the 200 division US Army without mentioning that less than half of the authorized divisions were actually manned.  I noticed Sura eyeing me carefully when I described numbers and sizes of divisions but I treated it like a weather report.  Confidence breeds believability.

 I also learned things from the questions she asked.  In American military terms, both the Kapars and Unisans had air forces and air defense forces, but no ground armies or navies!  They just bombed and strafed each other until someone surrendered!

 Oh, ho!  I managed to keep my face straight.  It was hard to do.  I was starting to understand how the Kapar-Unisan war had been going on for a hundred years.  I almost choked when I imagined Raymond Massey in a Kapar uniform declaiming “And now for the rule of the Air Men!” 

 And naturally I dropped the subject of ground armies and ocean navies.

 Sura’s definition of “science” boiled down to “military weapons, equipment and supporting technology more powerful than machine guns and cannon.”  I trotted out every wonder weapon that Hitler’s propaganda machine had been claiming since 1931.  Since she swallowed one piece of H.G. Wells’s science fiction, I even threw in references to atomic bombs and similar fantasies.

 Finally, we were done.  Sura had a complete and consistent picture of a violent, heavily armed and incredibly bellicose planet called Earth in a distant solar system.  And I hadn’t been given a truncheon massage for several days.

 I discovered, however, two flies in the ointment.

 First of all, Kiri won’t talk to me.  Her face turned into a mask of horror whenever she looked at me.  I tried to find out what was wrong but she hid behind her Kapar guard and whimpered for him to protect her.  He was startled by the request but more than happy to protect a good looking young lady from an unarmed man.

 I eventually took the hint.

 And, second of all, Sura declared me insane.

From ERBzine 0862
Planetary System of OmosUnisan AlphabetPoloda


Available Now



ERBzine 5819
Project Evolution 
Meet Lee Strong
ERBzine 5820
Table of Contents ~ Prolog
"Ghosts in the Machine"
ERBzine 5821
Ch. 1 Preview:
"No Joke, There I Was…"
ERBzine 5822
Ch. 2 Preview: "First I Died… 
And Then Things Got Worse"

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