The Prince of Peril - Otis Adelbert Kline - ebook

The Prince of Peril ebook

Otis Adelbert Kline

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The second of the three Grandon of Venus novels. When the man who was Harry Thorne on Earth offered to swap bodies with a native of Venus, it was because he was bored with comfort and security, and craved excitement. And that was what he got – more than he would have bargained for – when he found that he had taken over the assassin-haunted role of a prince of a beleaguered throne in a land of ferocious beasts and inhuman foemen. With the help of the fellow interplanetary traveler Vorn Vangal he got to know the planet and the rules of it. Otis Adelbert Kline, whose work is often compared to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs, has created in „The Prince of Peril” another interplanetary swordplay and fantastic adventure to stand alongside his fast-selling „The Planet of Peril” and „The Swordsman of Mars”.

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Liczba stron: 272

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Contents

FOREWORD

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

FOREWORD

MANY people have asked me how I came to write “The Swordsman of Mars,” “The Outlaws of Mars,” and “The Planet of Peril,” and have wondered why the character of Dr. Morgan appears in all of them. “It was all right for the first story,” one reader complained, “but it begins to get a bit thick the third time. I hope you’re not going to do it again.” Another thought that Dr. Morgan really belonged in the series, but that there wasn’t enough of him; I should justify his continuance by having him play a more important role in the plot.

As an author, I agree with both of these critics. Dr. Morgan either should have been dropped, or should have a more active and vital role; and I certainly would have taken one of these alternatives in the second novel, “Outlaws of Mars,” were this series really my own to work out as I pleased.

You see, while the name “Dr. Morgan” is fictitious, the character is not. It was quite by accident that I literally dropped in on him one day while deer-hunting in the mountains. It was a cloudy day, and I lost my bearings. I’d been foolish enough to forget my compass, so I climbed the highest prominence to orient myself.

If you have ever met me, you will know that these were not tremendous mountains. Now that I’m letting you in on a long-kept secret, I must confess to further deception. If you will re-read the opening chapters of the preceding books, you will see that while I’ve given the impression that Dr. Morgan’s retreat was amidst high mountains, I’ve never said anything definite about the height. There were high enough for my own purposes of sport and exercise, and Dr. Morgan’s purposes of isolation, but you may have been led to overestimate their eminence.

I had all but reached the summit I was approaching, when my feet suddenly slipped from under me. Gun and all, I crashed through something which felt and sounded like glass, and struck a hard, concrete floor. My right leg crumpled under me, and all went black.

When I regained consciousness I thought I was in a hospital, for two men in white garments were working over me.

The younger man I took to be an interne. The other was indeed a doctor, as I was to learn. He was of gigantic stature, but well- proportioned and athletic, and of most striking appearance. His forehead was far higher than any other I had ever seen, bulging outward so that his shaggy eyebrows, which grew completely together above the bridge of his aquiline nose, half concealed his small, glittering, beady eyes. His close-cropped, sharply pointed beard, in which a few gray hairs were in evidence, proclaimed him as probably past middle age.

When he had finished bandaging my fractured leg, which throbbed unmercifully, he dismissed his assistant, called me by name, and introduced himself. I am not yet free to divulge his true identity, so I shall continue to call him “Dr. Morgan.”

“What hospital is this,” I asked, “and how did you find me?”

“You are not in a hospital,” he replied in his booming bass voice, “but still on the mountain in my retreat. My men are now replacing the skylight through which you fell.”

For nearly a month I convalesced in the secret, perfectly- camouflaged observatory. When he learned that I was an author (be had learned my name from the mundane process of looking through my wallet) he asked permission to question me under hypnosis, promising to explain when he had finished, and assuring me that I need not worry about anything he would ask me.

There are some human beings who inspire you with trust almost upon first sight. Dr. Morgan was such a person. I agreed; and I learned later that, had he not been trustworthy, it would have been very easy for him to have tricked me into agreement. Actually, he would not have done it without my full consent, honestly gained.

“I must ask your forgiveness,” he said, after the session. “While my impression of you was that you were both honest and reliable, I had to be sure that you did not have particular character weaknesses through which you could be easily led to betray confidences you really meant to keep. I have some material which would be ideal for the sort of stories you write, but it is vital that certain aspects of what you will learn do not become public knowledge. Without these, few readers will suspect that what you will write is anything but very imaginative romance, and those few will not be able to ascertain more without facts which I now am confident you won’t reveal.”

He stroked his beard. “I could, of course, with your consent, doubly insure security by putting you under hypnotic inhibition –you would not remember what you were not supposed to reveal. But this is a risky process, not one hundred percent certain, and might have undesirable side-effects upon you.”

“I’ll go along with your judgment on this,” I told him.

In the days that followed I learned about Dr. Morgan’s studies of parapsychology, particularly in telepathy. I had done some reading in this line myself, so knew something of the general theory–that the communication of thoughts or ideas or moods from one mind to another without the use of any physical medium whatever, was not influenced or hampered by either time or space.

Dr. Morgan had worked on telepathy for many years in his spare time, when he was in practice; but on his retirement, he tried a different track. “I had to amend the theory,” he explained. “I decided that it would be necessary to build a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves. And even this would have failed had my machine not caught the waves projected by another machine, which another man had built to amplify and project them.”

Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.

“Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.

Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”

He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being– one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was lo less incredulous whoa Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.

And that was the clue. Both Dr. Morgan and Lal Vak were correct. Neither man could possibly exist on the world he claimed to inhabit –if both were living in the same area of space-time. But Lal Vak’s description of Earth was a valid description of the third planet from the sun as it existed millions of years ago.

“I have read many weird and fantastic stories,” Dr. Morgan said, “as have you. Some of them have given me a most eerie feeling–but nothing to compare with my feelings upon talking with a man who has been dead millions of years, of whose civilization there may now linger not so much as a single trace.”

This was the beginning. Dr. Morgan brought me several thick typewritten manuscripts which he had bound separately, and I read therein the stories of Harry Thorne, of Morgan’s own nephew, Jerry, and of Robert Grandon. Thus I learned that Lal Vak was the contemporary of a Venusian named Vorn Vangal and that a human civilization had also existed on Venus at this time.

With the aid of Lal Vak, Dr. Morgan had effected transfer of personalities between two Martians and two Earthmen, whose physical and brain-pattern make-up were similar enough to permit such exchange. Through a means which I am still barred from describing in detail, it was possible for Dr. Morgan to keep in rapport with his emissaries on Mars–providing they co-operated. The first man broke contact, and turned out to be a disastrously wrong choice. Thus, Harry Thorne was sent to Mars, to exchange consciousness with a Martian whose body was holding the personality of Frank Boyd, criminal Earthman.

From Vorn Vangal, Dr. Morgan learned the construction and operation of a space-time vehicle, propelled by telekinesis. It was by means of this vehicle that Morgan’s nephew Jerry, went to Mars physically. But something went wrong on the return trip–Dr. Morgan had tried to bring the vehicle back to Earth and his own time, empty, for use to transport an Earthman to Venus later–and the vehicle was lost.

“It might have been possible to build another,” Dr. Morgan told me, after I had finished reading about the adventures of his nephew, “but Vorn Vangal and I decided that it would be simpler to use the personality- exchange system, if we could find an Earthman or two who could qualify.” He pointed to the other two manuscripts which I was yet to read. “These tell of what happened to the two I sent to Venus: Robert Grandon and Borgen Takkor.”

“Borgen Takkor–but he’s on Mars,” I protested. “He’s the Zovil of Xancibar ... Did something go wrong? A break-up between him and Neva...?”

Dr. Morgan smiled. “No, no, my friend–Harry Thorne is on Mars in the body of Borgen Takkor. The man who was my assistant for many years, called Harry Thorne, is Borgen Takkor.” He coughed slightly. “Of course, he is now known as Prince Zinlo of Venus.”

I smiled. “If we can consider millions of years in the past as ‘now’.”

“I am still in contact with him, as with the others who are ‘still’ alive ... At any rate, Borgen Takkor asked me if he could go to Venus; he was getting tired of Earth, and of course he could not return to Mars. He was fascinated with what Vorn Vangal told me of the Venusian civilization and was sure he’d feel more at home there, however strange it might be. I’d say it would be roughly analogous to the case of a crusader from 12th Century England transported and settled down into a remote part of Islam, where there was not and probably never would be direct contact with his native civilization.”

So “Harry Thorne,” and an Earthman named Robert Grandon went to Venus.

Here were four distinct stories, and Dr. Morgan went over them with me, indicating what parts of them might be used for novels, and what had best not be related in detail, or omitted entirely.

I have told you the story of Robert Grandon in “The Planet of Peril,” and those of you who have read it will recall that Harry Thorne and Grandon met in the closing episodes of the story. You may remember that Grandon asked Thorne to tell him of his adventures between the time of Thorne’s arrival on Venus, and this meeting, as it was plain that much had happened and that the other man had found his place and the woman of his heart’s desire. Before Thorne could tell the story, they were interrupted by announcements that their airship had arrived at Vernia’s capital.

Actually, the record shows that Thorne did tell his story to Grandon later, during the visit–although like nothing in the detail present in Dr. Morgan’s records. But it was impossible to give even so brief an outline in this place. It had no bearing on the story of Robert Grandon and his rise on Venus, his winning of Vernia, and the defeat and death of the traitor, Prince Destho. I decided to omit it entirely, leaving it for another novel.

So now I offer you the story of Harry Thorne–and, with your permission, I shall stop calling him “Harry Thorne.” This is the story of Borgen Takkor’s adventures on Venus, Borgen Takkor, born on Mars, transferred to Earth for a decade, and finally finding his career and place on Venus.

The Author.

CHAPTER 1

“Good-bye, men and good luck to you.”

My awakening, after I lay down on the cot in Dr. Morgan’s observatory, was quite sudden and startling. It seemed that not more than a few seconds had elapsed since I had heard the doctor’s parting words to Grandon and myself.

I opened my eyes and sat up abruptly with an inexplicable sense of impending danger. My first glimpse of my surroundings convinced me that I had indeed arrived on Venus. The magnificent riot of vegetation surrounding me –vegetation the like of which I had not seen on Mars, the red, barren planet of my birth, nor on Earth, the more recent planet of my adoption– was sufficient evidence.

I was seated on a bank of soft, violet-colored moss which sloped gently to a limpid pool at my feet. The feathery fronds of a giant bush-fern arched above my head, some of them dipping to the surface of the water, where they were snapped at from time to time by playful, grotesque, multi-colored amphibians.

I was dressed in garments of shimmering, scarlet material. There was a broad, golden chain-belt about my waist, with a jeweled clasp in front. Riveted to this belt on the right side was an oblong instrument about two feet in length, with a button near the upper end, a small lever on the side, and a tiny hole in the lower end. I had no idea what it was for; but I recognized the weapon which hung at my left side, as it resembled a scimitar. As I was examining the ruby-studded hilt of this beautiful weapon, a noise at my left attracted my attention.

Cautiously, without turning my head, I glanced from the corners of my eyes across a stretch of shrubbery to where a high wall of black stone surrounded this estate, and hid the country beyond. Just on the other side of the wall a tall fern-tree spread its mighty fronds. It must have been the cracking of one of these that had attracted my attention, for a heavy-set individual with a coarse red beard, cut off square below the chin, had climbed out on it to a point where it would no longer sustain his weight, in an effort to reach the top of the wall.

Someone in the shrubbery quite near me called a whispered warning to him –or such I took it to be, for the language was unknown to me, and I could only judge by the tones. The huge intruder was much more agile than he appeared, for he flung an arm over the top of the wall and drew himself up with catlike quickness. As he struck the wall there was a metallic clank which, I saw as soon as he came into full view, was from an edged weapon at his side, quite like my own but with a less ornate hilt and broader blade.

As soon as the red-bearded man reached the top of the wall, the one who had whispered from the bushes cautiously stood up. He was smaller and more wiry than the first, and his beard, which was iron-gray in color, was trimmed in the same manner.

Red-beard tiptoed stealthily along the top of the wall, glancing toward me from time to time as if fearful that I would hear him or turn toward him. Then he leaned out, caught his fingers in a tall cone-shaped growth, swung his sandaled feet out, and descended.

I wondered if it could be possible that these two prowlers were bent on injury to me, a total stranger on Venus. Then it dawned on me that they could easily be mortal enemies of the prince with whom I had exchanged bodies, and that I–so far as their knowledge went–was that prince.

I therefore drew my cutting weapon from its sheath in order to have it ready, and pretended to examine its beautiful, highly polished blade. For several minutes I neither saw nor heard anything of the two prowlers. Then I suddenly glimpsed, reflected on the polished surface of my blade, the red- bearded man standing directly behind me with his weapon upraised for a downward cut that would have sheared my skull from crown to chin. As swords of all kinds had been my principal playthings on Mars, and fencing my favorite amusement on Earth, I did the thing which any swordsman would have done instinctively in the circumstances. I raised the blade of my weapon above my head with a downward slant from hilt to point, and the descending blade of my would-be assassin, deflected by my own, buried itself in the mossy turf on my left.

Springing to my feet, I whirled and attacked.

My opponent proved to be a hammer-and-tongs fighter, no match for superior swordsmanship. I could have killed him any one of a dozen times before he realized that I was playing with him. Then he bawled out lustily, and the wiry fellow with the gray beard came rushing out of the bushes. Not knowing the caliber of the second assailant, I stopped the squawking of the first with a quick neck-cut that laid him low.

The wiry graybeard was much quicker and far more elusive than his huge companion, and I did not play with him. He soon left me the opening I sought, and I stretched him beside his fellow with a bone-shearing cut.

Having ascertained beyond doubt that both of my would-be assassins were dead, I carefully cleaned my blade, sheathed it, and set out to explore my surroundings.

I had been walking for perhaps ten minutes along the mossy bank, when a monster, more hideous than anything I had ever seen or even dreamed existed, emerged from the water and came toward me.

I whipped out my blade as it waddled forward on its thick, bowed legs. Its long, scaly tail dragged in the moss, and its enormous jaws were distended in a grin that disclosed huge, ivory-white tusks. It was so fearsome a thing that, although I am no coward, I knew not whether to stand and fight or take to my heels.

A gust of laughter at my right caused me to turn. I beheld a tall man, apparently of middle age, smiling broadly at me. His garments were of purple, and he wore a beard that had once been black, now slightly streaked with gray, cut off square below the chin. His weapons were similar to mine, though his belt was of silver.

“The ‘ikthos’ will not harm you,” he said in English. “It is one of the garden pets, and hostile only to strangers.”

The thing he called an ikthos sniffed at my garments, rubbed its ugly muzzle against my thigh, yawned, and crouched at my feet.

“You are surprised at my knowledge of English,” continued my new acquaintance. “After I tell you who you are and were, and also who I am, the thing will not seem so mysterious. You are he who was Borgen Takkor on Mars, and later Harry Thorne on Earth. You have now become Zinlo, the Torrogi or Imperial Crown Prince of Olba. I am Vorn Vangal, the Olban psychologist, and have been communicating telepathically with Dr. Morgan of Earth for several years.”

“I have heard the doctor speak of you often,” I replied. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Vorn Vangal.”

He acknowledged with a courtly bow. “I have but a few hours to spend with you. Grandon has already arrived on the other side of the planet and will shortly awaken to find himself a princely slave in the marble quarries of Uxpo. I must fly to his assistance. Come with me and see what preparations I have made for you.”

I followed Vorn Vangal through the garden. There was a profusion of ornamental trees, shrubs, fungi and jointed grasses, but no flowers or fruits. Patches of gloriously colored water plants of divers odd shapes flourished in the lagoons, and fungi of a thousand types and sizes grew in the moister places.

Though it was without flowers, the garden did not lack color. All the hues of the rainbow were represented in its rankly growing, primitive vegetation. Toadstools as tall as trees bordered several of the lagoons, some of them lemon-yellow, others orange, scarlet, black or brown, and still others of pale, chalky whiteness.

Beautiful statues and statuettes stood here and there, some placed conspicuously, but more of them showing unexpectedly in niches and vine-covered bowers as we moved along.

The garden teemed with bird and animal life. The trees were alive with gay-plumed songbirds that filled the air with their melodious, flute-like notes. Waterfowl, both swimmers and waders, dotted the lagoons, and their cries, though not musical, were far from unpleasant. Amphibians of many species disported themselves in the water or dozed lazily on the banks. I was astonished at sight of a huge yellow frog which must easily have measured more than six feet from nose to toes, blinking contentedly and fearlessly down at me from his seat on an enormous scarlet toadstool.

With our hideous ikthos trailing closely behind us, and from time to time affectionately nosing either Vorn Vangal or me with its cold, moist snout, we presently came before a tall building. It was of black marble, and was my first glimpse of Olban architecture.

Its shape astonished me. I do not believe there was a straight line in the entire structure. Everything was curved. The building stood on a circular foundation, and its walls, instead of mounting skyward in a straight line, bellied outward and then curved in again at the top. The lower structure was surmounted by a second segment, smaller, but of similar shape. This, in turn, supported others, still smaller, up to the top segment, some thirty feet in diameter and no less than six hundred feet from the ground.

We mounted a flight of steps, walked between two uniformed guards who saluted stiffly, and entered a large circular door, where a slave took charge of the ikthos and led him away. After following a broad hallway for some distance we came to a huge pillar. It was in the center of the building, and was decorated on one side with a large oval plate of burnished silver on which was embossed what appeared to be a coat-of-arms. As we stepped before it the plate slid back, revealing a small room within.

At Vangal’s invitation I stepped into the small room inside the huge central pillar of the tower, and he followed. As soon as he stood beside me the silver plate slid back across the entrance, a concealed light flashed on somewhere above our heads, and the floor moved upward.

We were in an elevator, of course, but what had started the thing and how was my companion going to stop it when we reached our destination? There were no levers or buttons of any sort. The thing seemed almost human in its movements. Perhaps there was a hidden operator. I voiced my question to Vorn Vangal.

“It is moved by a mechanism which amplifies the power of telekinesis,” he said.

I had often heard Dr. Morgan use the word “telekinesis,” and knew that it described that mysterious power of the mind which enables psychics to tip tables and lift imponderable objects without physical means. In short, it referred to the direct power of mind over matter.

“I have heard of small objects being moved or lifted by telekinesis,” I marveled, “but to lift an elevator! Why, this is amazing!”

“We lift far heavier things than this little car,” said Vangal, smiling slightly. “Huge cranes and derricks are operated in the same way. Airships of all sizes from small one-man flyers to huge battleships are moved by it– propelled through the air at speeds ranging from two hundred to one thousand miles an hour.”

“But how is that possible?”

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