The Man the Sun-Gods Made
Originally published in PLANET STORIES, Winter, 1946
Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
They called him a god and worshiped him. He neither ate nor drank, nor breathed the wild free air, yet he was mighty beyond belief. But grief bowed those superbly-muscled shoulders, for he knew he was human.
TYR stood on the warm white sands and stretched. The hot yellow rays of the sun played across his ribbed chest and the muscles in his long legs and thick arms. Tyr smiled. It was good to be alive, even if he was a god.
He wondered when they would come to worship him again, sending the bittersweet keening of the suota-horns out across the silver deserts and blue lakes of Lyallar. He hoped it would be soon, for he had, despite himself, grown to like sitting on the ruby throne. From where he stood, looking across the groined vastness of the Lord Chamber, he could see the upturned faces of his people. Even the rat-face of Otho he liked at moments like those, for the wondrously beautiful face of Fay smiled red lipped at him. Tyr gave many gifts to Fay from the treasures that the Lyallar heaped upon him. And always it seemed she was eager for more, her brown eyes flickering like those of a greedy child.
Tyr spread his arms, feeling millions of tiny nerve-ends in his skin open to drink in the energy pouring from the titanic orb of fire in the heavens that was sun to the planet Lyallar. Tyr ate no food, and breathed no air. All that he needed for his existence he got from the sun.
As the energy flooded into him, making him tingle in every fiber of his being, Tyr felt again the effect of that energy on his brain. It was as though the power he fed on was so great that it opened the deeper spaces of his mind so that any problem was no problem at all—while the moment lasted.
He had found the stone tower in a moment like that. Seen it at first miles away, standing lone and stark on the silver sand. Built of brownish rock, round as the bole of a tree, it was something new to him who had explored all the strange places of this planet. Tyr had run to it, testing his swift feet. He could have distanced a dozen cheetahs, one after another, could Tyr. He was more than swift. He was inhuman.
The lock was easy to break with all that energy flooding him. He merely took it in his big hands and his muscles writhed and bulged, and the flaky red metal of the lock snapped. With the flat of a hand he pushed open the door and went within. It was dim and cool inside, and at first Tyr did not like it.
There were queer objects all about him, some of glass, some of metal. Here were curves and cones and vibrating rods of the thickness of a man’s little finger. And books! Even the libraries of the Trylla contained no books such as these. He lifted one down and browsed, and found that his mind was understanding it, knowing what those terms and symbols meant, without thinking. His mind frightened Tyr at times. It was almost not a part of him. It was as though all the men and women who had been his forebears had left a little something of themselves in his makeup, so that their knowledge and experience could guide their descendant.
Many hours Tyr spent in that odd place. It was a change from the deserts and the ruby throne. Gradually, through the years, he found that he was amassing an education from the books and the glass and metal objects — Suu-ohhh-taaaa!
THE CLARION NOTES rang sweet and clear. They brought Tyr erect, the peculiar ring chained to his neck bouncing on his chest. He looked toward the dim horizon, where stood Yawarta, city of the ruby throne.
This was the call to the god of the Lyallar. Tyr ran easily, like a perfect machine that never tired. Across the white sands, and through the eerie forest in which all the trees resembled frost-flakes, silver-white in the sun. Deep in the heart of the forest lay an azure pool, its blueness contrasting startlingly with the silver of the forest.
The towers of Yawarta were slim and dark beyond the grassy fields. Like drops of blood on a satin pillow they brooded, reminding the Tryllan race that they were slaves to the ardth who dwelt far beyond the nearest star.
A girl was standing before a golden door set flush with the hillside.
“Speak not, on your life!” she whimpered.
They stood silent, breathing softly. Tyr heard the voices then, harsh voices, where the Tryllans spoke in musical syllables.
“The ardth! They have returned?”
“Yes. They swear to kill you, Tyr. They are hunting you now, along the tunnels to the door.”
Tyr bent and swung the girl high on chest, grinning. “They will never catch Tyr.”
Tyr began to run. His legs blurred with the speed of his motion. He stepped out along the grassy slope, and down it, and then was running free on the plains. He heard Fay’s gasp as she grew aware of his pace. She buried her head against his shoulder to breathe, and her yellow hair whipped and stung his face as the wind tossed it.
For four hours Tyr ran, not needing to breathe. When he swung the girl down, he was as composed as though he had moved ten feet. Fay stared up at him with warm brown eyes.
“Truly you are a god, Tyr. Only a god could run without effort.”
“No god. Only – only — ”
He halted. He had no word to describe himself. Neither did the Trylla, except “god.” So god he had become, unwillingly; yet he was dimly aware that he was unique among men, that he stood alone.
“We are far from the Old Ones, the ardth, here,” he said. “It would be easy to dwell here on the deserts until they have left.”
Fay stirred restlessly, saying, “I do not want to stay on the deserts. They are bare places. No people, no laughter.”
“I don’t blame you. There must be something I can do.”
He rubbed his hands on the soft white fur that clasped his hips. A hot anger was beating up inside him, making his nostrils flare. The Old Ones. They had come back to Lyallar, where Tyr ruled. The masters of planets and the far reaches of space had come back. He was one, and the ardth were many. Individually, nothing could ever defeat him. But one against a race? He shook his head.
“You could fight them, Tyr. You are a god. What can the Old Ones do to you? There is no way of killing you. Sometimes an assassin has tried, while you sat on the ruby throne. But no one has ever succeeded.”
That was true. Yet he did not tell her that his own uncanny speed saved him. There was no sense in testing fate, by letting a weapon strike him. He had a subtle knowledge that he might be immune to certain types of missiles, but he was not Sure.
“You could walk into Yawarta and slay them all, Tyr,” the girl said softly, watching him carefully with her brown eyes. “Then we could go back to the old days. You could give me that emerald necklace I want.”
Tyr wondered at the greed in the brown eyes. It disturbed him. But it did not disturb him as much as the thoughts of the Old Ones. Thought of them brought a yearning for battle that rose red and mist like inside his great chest. How to tell of that hotness within him, where his guts ought to be, but were not, that made his heart pump with fury? Yet, despite his rage, he was alert and careful as a stalking cat. He could not tell this to Fay; she wanted him to walk unarmed into Yawarta and blast the ardth with some sort of supernatural power.
He walked around on the white sand, brooding at his moving feet. He looked into his mind for the words, stumbling and halting.
“Fay, the Trylla have made of me a god. Now I know I am no god. I am not such a god as the legends of the Tryllan cults tell of, at any rate. I am only a man. A human being, who is something of a freak.”
There was a patient smile on the girl’s red mouth. She shook her head and the soft yellow hair tumbled around her bare shoulders.
“We have spoken of this before, Tyr. Always you say that you are not a god, and then you turn around and do what only a god can do.”
TYR SIGHED. “Maybe I am a god. Maybe I expect a god to be too much. But that is not exactly the point. It is this: the Trylla call me god, no matter what I call myself. Therefore I must act like a god, for their sake.”
Fay nodded, brown eyes fastened on him.
Tyr said slowly, “A god would not let oppressors molest his people, would he, Fay?”
“That is just what I have said. You must go into Yawarta and slay and slay—”
“No. No, I do not think that is what a god would do.”
Fay frowned slightly. She kicked at a lump of sand and watched it fly apart. She 1 an a finger into her thick yellow hair and twirled it.
“Of course you may be right,” she said tartly. “I am not versed in the way of gods.”
“Nor am I,” scowled Tyr. “But, in the heart of me, something says there is another way. That, if I can convince the ardth that I could defeat them, smash them in some way—then that would be the triumph of a god.”
“That might take a long time. I would like very much to have that emerald necklace. Otho said it was worn by Queen Yatha-sath two thousand years ago. Please, Tyr?”
She came close to him, perfumed warmth and soft white skin. Her mouth was very red. But Tyr looked away, frowning.
“The Old Ones derive their powers from a thing called science,” he said slowly. “It says so in a book in the Tower. If I could learn that science, if might defeat them with their own weapons. But that would take a long time. Many years.”
HE STARED up into the sun and smiled gently, feeling its hot rays lave his chest and arms and thighs. Like bubbles of air surging up through water, he felt the dormant strength of his muscles. He had strength. A strong man can fight with his hands and with his legs. He would fight.
He turned sharply to Fay and asked, “What is the Barrow that the Trylla often mention? Where is it?”
“The Barrow is the pride of the Trylla. Without it there would be no hope.”
“Yes, yes. I know. But what is it?”
“It is the hidden place where all the wartime secrets of the race are stored. When the last invasion of the Old Ones took place, nearly a hundred years ago, all the accumulated knowledge of the conquered Tryllans was locked away lest the Old Ones destroy it.”
“Could you find the Barrow?”
Fay shuddered. Tyr looked at her, saw her fingers move through her yellow hair, watched with gentle smile as white teeth nibbled at red lip. He put out his big hands and held her arms.
“It is for the Trylla that I ask.”
“I—I know. I can find the Barrow.” Her chin lifted defiantly. “Of what use are old legends if they make those who hear them weaklings and cowards? Better to—to die bravely than to hole up like the tab-bug at the first cry of the hunting-cat!”
Tyr grinned at her, wondering if she believed in her own words. She was so lovely, so childishly greedy for pretty things, so—he frowned at the idea—so unconsciously selfish, wrapped in her own interests, that abstract terms like bravery and cowardice seemed alien to her tongue. Her brown eyes flirted up at him from under their long lashes, and caught his warm grin.
She muttered sullenly, “The Barrow is five days’ journey from the Desert of the Dead, and that lies two days’ traveling from here.”
“Much of the journey is across terrible deserts, and the rest is over insurmountable mountain barriers. The Barrow is atop the tallest mountain on all the planet.”
“That makes it so much harder for the Old Ones to find it,” Tyr said.
“The Old Ones can fly. The Trylla must walk. Our monorails run only in the cities. Oh, Tyr, the only way you can win is to go into the chambers of Yawarta and destroy the leading ardth. You can do it no other way!”
“If Harl the Ancient still lives,” Tyr dreamed, “He could help me fight. He was the greatest of the Tryllan warriors. There are rumors he does live, in the Barrow. That is why I must find it. I need Harl.”
The girl nibbled at her red mouth sullenly, saying, “I don’t see why you don’t do as I say. In that way, you’d get to power faster. We wouldn’t have to share the glory with Harl.”
“The ardth aren’t bowling pins to fall at the sway of an arm, Fay. They are dangerous men. Wise men with enough savagery in their blood to make them vicious.”
Tyr knew he could never hope to walk into the secret chambers of the ardth alive. He knew his limitations. He was human, after a fashion. He bled when cut, and he ached when bruised. And the ardth —
The ardth were a strange race. They were nomads who swept across the trails of the stars in great vessels that spanned a bridge of space from planet to planet. Never happy for long, they were eaten by a cancerous unrest that drove them on and on, to the outermost rims of the galaxies, hunting always.
They had home planets, too, but they were seldom at home. Instead they chose to lock themselves in ships of metal and fling themselves out between the suns. Instead of green grass and trees, their windows looked on blackness relieved only by twinkling dots that were stars, and steadily glowing pinpricks that were unexplored planets.
Five hundred years ago they had come to Lyallar. The Tryllans, then a great race, had fought them bitterly and had driven them off. Three hundred years later, they came again; this time they came for war. That war lasted seventy-two years and, at its end, the Tryllans were a broken race. And that time the Old Ones stayed, or, rather, their cities stayed and the Glow.
NO ONE really knew what the Glow was. It made the Old Ones powerful, and was as closely guarded by them as was the Barrow by the Trylla. Without the Glow, the ardth were naught. They hid the Glow deep in their biggest city, that they named Mart.
“If we could go to Mart and find this Glow,” said Tyr abruptly, out of his deep thought.
Fay laughed bitterly, “The Barrow one can find by rolling downhill, compared to finding the Glow and using it.”
Tyr grunted. It was hard, being a god.
Sometimes he wished he were like other men, for then he would have no people to protect, no Old Ones to battle for a race that looked to him for guidance. Often he had thought that the Old Ones might be gods, but he knew that none of them could do what he could do.
His god-ship prodded him into saying, “Let us find the Barrow, and Harl.”
“Harl is old, very old,” replied the girl. “He is so old that he must be a doddering gaffer now.”
“But his brain would be young,” Tyr argued. “And it is the brain that is trained in war from which I seek aid.”
The girl sat on a rock and undid a sandal and shook sand from it. She shrugged petulantly and fastened her sandal. “Must we go now? It is almost night.”
Tyr looked at the sun low on the horizon. Tyr did not like to travel by night. He preferred the hot day, when the sun rays beat, with insistent heat about his tanned chest and shoulders. But there was need for hurry. The Old Ones did not stop for darkness, and neither would he.
“Come,” he said shortly.
The way was easy, at first. In the red light of the dying sun, they saw the sand before them, each rise and dip molded into graceful curves by the winds that whipped the barrens night and day. They went lightly, swiftly.
Slowly the stars loomed in the darkening sky above them. And, as is the way with travelers the worlds over, they grew silent and more intimate in unspoken thought. Once or twice Fay’s hand brushed Tyr’s, and he helped her across the higher dunes.
On a hard swirl of sand, they stood close. Fay whispered, “All those stars, Tyr. You would think the Old Ones would be satisfied with so many. They might leave Lyallar alone”
Tyr felt surprise at the emotion within him. It was almost a sympathy with the nomad oppressors. “They have curiosity. I have it myself. I have lived on every desert that Lyallar can boast, yet I am ever searching for a bigger and a hotter one. Maybe the Old Ones are like that.”
He looked down at the girl, smiling wistfully at the pale loveliness of her hair, at the warm brown of her eyes. He shivered, watching her. He wanted so much to take Fay and go out into the desert with her, away from everything that smacked of godhood. They could go to the Tower, and live there safely. The ardth would not find him there. There would be none to say him yea or nay. If—he was a god!
Tyr sighed and turned from Fay’s red mouth and looked out across the unending dunes. An inner voice whispered, The Trylla need you, Tyr. You are their god, and a god does not run away. When is a god needed more than in time of trouble? You cannot leave them, for they are as children. You must fight. He nodded in the darkness, grimly.
Side by side they went on through the night. And now they went apart from each other, as though the decision were a final parting. Words were unnecessary. The Trylla needed Tyr.
It was dawn when they saw the others trudging wearily across a far bank of sand. Tyr shouted and waved, summoning them. Dragging deadened limbs they came, in torn clothes and with smears and streaks of dirt on gaunt faces. They stood before him, and in their eyes was the dull glaze of despair and in their voices the sullen acceptance of their fate.
“We fled after seeing the ardth ships come.”
“They will find us, though. We want just a few more days of freedom.”
“All of Yawarta is captive to them. They have made Otho governor, and thrown Zarman, whom you appointed ruler, into the cells.”
“And they have sent out commands that you be returned to them at once. They have offered rewards.”
Tyr grinned mirthlessly, shaking his tawny head. A return meant torture, possibly death. If the Old Ones thought enough of him, they might feed him to the Glow.
He said, “Fay and I are bound for the Barrow. We will find Harl and call him to lead new armies against the ardth. Join with us. We shall win.”
“We cannot win . . . alone.”
They looked at him out of dull eyes in which tiny flames of hope sprang alive and flickered, and then died. They shuffled their feet. They looked tired enough to fall, and the bare soles of several bled red drops into the sands.
“Sleep,” said Tyr gently. “You need rest. Dawn is coming up, and I can go on in the sunlight to survey the path before us.”
He drew Fay with him, over the crest of a dune. His fingers rose to touch the circlet of dull gold that gleamed from the chain about his neck. Slowly he unfastened it as Fay watched, staring. The ring was a part of him, for he had worn it ever since he could remember. Now he wanted Fay to wear it. It bruised his ribs when he ran, or bounced on his back and against his jaw. But more than that, every Tryllan knew that ring. It would be a symbol of power in Fay’s hands.
“Use it well,” he said, closing her white fingers about it.
Her brown eyes were wide, looking up at him. Tyr put out his hands and caught her arms above her elbows. He held her like that, just looking at her beauty, for a long moment.
And then he turned and ran swiftly, lest the muffled thunder of his blood should smash the resolutions his brain had welded so firmly.
SAND slipped away in back of him, as wind passes the arrow in its flight. Air was cool on his chest and on the powerful thighs that rippled with muscles as he ran. The sun beat at him, leaving him in its warmth. He grew strong and powerful as the cells of his skin sucked in energy.
Run, Tyr. Run faster and yet faster, that the thoughts teeming in your brain may be left behind. You are a god, and a girl named Fay is not for you. You have only the ardth-men, Tyr. They are your enemies, and they must be vanquished!
But how? But how? His brain howled in desperation. They are so many. They know sciences, and they have weapons. You have two bare hands and a strong body, a strange body, a body that frighten you at times, it is so different.
Something dug into the sand ahead of him and exploded. Tyr swerved like a frightened faun and came to a stop. Something else blew up a little closer to him. Hard granules of sand stung his flesh.
He saw them, then, in the sky. Three sleek aircraft with stubby wings and a long fuselage out of which shot tiny glints of red.
Tyr drew his hands down his ribs, lips twisted. By the god that he was supposed to be! He’d show them a race, even if they could fly and he could only run.
The sun was hot and searing. Good! It was his ally, that immense orb. While it shone, they could not catch him.
His pace was a blurred thing. His flight was that of the kala-bird whistling before the hawk. He swerved and he darted, and he made fools of the men in the shiny things above and behind him. It was an incredible thing that he did, but Tyr was an incredible being. The rules were not made for him, for who made the rules knew nothing of Tyr. He outran those aircraft.
All day long, while the sun beat upon him, Tyr flew. Vaguely he realized that he was a living, functioning thing of energy — not pure energy, but energy translated into human power.
Yet he was human, and the fliers were machines. He lost them among the rocks, but the aircraft spread in widening circles and one of them found him again. And so Tyr ran on. Once or twice he stumbled, toward the end of the day. The thunder of the jet planes was loud in his ears. They swooped low, casting long shadows before them.
There were no more explosions. Those had stopped once he began his mad race. He thought, “At least, Fay and the others are safe. I’ve led the ardth a long way from them.” The muscles in his legs were hardening, knotting. They grew heavy and inert.
The planes had landed, and the men were coming for him. The stars-and-bars on their jackets loomed bigger and bigger as he stood and waited. His chest rippled with sweat, and his long arms hung limp on either side of his giant frame.
He could fight and die here, with the moon starting its rise in front of him; and the wilderness of his run behind him. His body was pouring the energy through his system again, and his muscles grew less heavy.
“By Kagan!” swore the first ardth-man, staring at him with round eyes over the muzzle of a lifted gun. “Who are you, man? What are you ?”
“He’s their god,” rasped another, appraising Tyr with knowing eyes.
“No wonder,” grunted the third, holstering his weapon. “A god such as he would find me among his worshipers They’ll never believe us on Rigel-7!”
“Do you yield?” asked the first.
They did not seem so frightening, close up. They were like Tyr. They were men, smaller than he, but men. He could kill them all, here and now, but —
He owned a desire to see more of these ardth. Perhaps he could reason with their commander, make some sort of compromise. He would do anything to save the Trylla. Fay and the others were safe. Let them go to the Barrow. He would know where to find them when he escaped from the ardth. And he would escape. There was no prison made that could hold Tyr.
He said slowly, “I yield. I will go with you.”
Dully, despite all his hopes and plans, he knew himself a complete and total failure as a god.
HER HAIR was black as the tip of a raven’s wing, parted in the middle, and drawn back over tiny ears. She had black eyes and a wide, crimson mouth that kept smiling at him, gently. She stood in the midst of the cloaked ardth men who stared at him as they listened to the voices of the airmen who had captured him.
Tyr grew uncomfortable under her steady gaze. He shifted his feet, feeling silly, looming so big above the smaller pilots. He felt that they all were laughing at him. What a god he was! No wonder they laughed at him secretly. A god who was the protector of his race, allowing capture by three pilots he could have killed with three blows of his big hands.
The eyes and the mockery of the men, he did not mind, but the steady eyes of the woman —
Forget her, and look about you, Tyr. This is a room of the Old Ones, with its silver and black-glass windows arching a hundred feet up along the wall, and the hooded eagle design carven into the stone and wood. A high backed chair stood empty on a rostrum as the man who usually filled it stood with the others, watching him. This was wealth, from the priceless red damask drapes at the windows to the hand laid tiles beneath his feet.
It was no use. Her dark eyes were too steady.
“A lie,” said one of the Old Ones calmly. “No man could do what he did.”
“He is no man, sire. He is the one the Trylla worship. He is — Tyr!”
They started at that. The pilot had told his story cleverly. He grinned with self appreciation as the murmurs and the cries rewarded him. Tyr knew the closer scrutiny of the eyes beneath drawn brows. They ate him up, those eyes. Especially the eyes of the woman.
A lean man with a bald head and iron gray mustache stepped forward and walked around Tyr, his glittering eyes probing. Shaking his head dubiously, he said, “Katha, you’re our biochemical expert. Can it be?”
The woman with the black hair came toward him, swaying gracefully. “I must make tests, Space Commander,” she said, and Tyr liked the hoarse vibrancy of her voice. It sent tingles down his spine. But maybe that was the black eyes of her that smiled up at him as she asked, “Is it true, what he says?”
“Yes, it’s true. I outran their planes. I could have killed them, but I did not choose to.”
“Then why didn’t you?” she smiled.
“Because I — show me to your commander. I want to treat with him. That is why I suffered capture. I will offer peace for peace. All I ask — “
The lean man with the —bald head came around in front of Tyr and stared at him with cold eyes.
“I am Space Commander Ronald Mason,” he said flatly. “I am in charge of Expeditionary Space Force to the Fornax Cluster. You will offer peace? But there is no war.”
Tyr held the snarl in his throat as he replied, “But there will be war, unless the ardth are willing to deal with me for the liberty of the Trylla.”
Mason smiled, but Tyr saw the flecks of passion deep in his ice-blue eyes. “The Trylla are a free race.”
Tyr said patiently, “The Trylla worship me. They think I am a god. I know, and you know, that I am nothing of the sort. Yet I would help them, if I could. You cannot keep me here, if I seek to escape. I can plunge this planet into the bloodiest war you ever saw. But I do not want to do that. I seek only peace. Peace, and some sort of pride for the Trylla, that they may once again hold up their heads — “
Mason interposed, “A laudable desire. But the Trylla are quite content. Otho tells me they will make no trouble. As for your idle boast of escaping — “
Space Commander Mason gestured and turned away with, “Test him, Katha. See why his responses vary so far from the norm.”
Red anger beat up in Tyr in mounting pulses. He bit into his lip and eased up to the tips of his toes. His muscles writhed. He —
A cool hand touched his forearm. The black eyes were there again, and the red mouth was smiling at him.
”The tests? Please?”
Tyr licked his lips, confused. He looked at the ardth, and down at the girl, whose eyes were sapping the mad rage in his heart. He said, “Yes, the tests.”
THE ROOM was big and white, and fantastically clean. Chrome and plasticite gleamed and shone under the bluish-white ceiling that diffused soft brightness into every corner. A fluoroscope machine stood against the north wall. On tables were set scalpels and needles and rolls of cotton. Electronic ray-machines, microscopes and cyclotroncancereas peered beyond them. This was the biochemical science of the Old Ones inside four walls.
Katha closed the door behind her and loosed her black cloak. She was garbed in black blouse with a star-and-bar in silver threaded into the material. Tight trousers, white, gave her a streamlined look.
“Be comfortable, please. This will not hurt, what I am about to do.”
Tyr watched her roll a big machine out, saw her thrust a needle with a handle into a jar of white liquid. She saw him watching her, and laughed softly.
“You are like a caged animal. You do not like walls, do you?”
“No. I prefer the desert.”
“You have spent all your life on the desert?”
“All. Ever since I was small.”
She turned from a wad of cotton that she was unrolling to regard him thoughtfully from under long black lashes.
“A boy. What of your parents?”
“I don’t remember them, if there were any to remember. The first thing I recall is sand under my feet, and running. The sun was always my friend. I love the sun. It feeds me. I need nothing to exist, other than the sun.”
Her left hand was warm where it caught his wrist. The damp cotton was swept across his flesh swiftly.
“I remember a lot of things about my youth. Unconnected things, like the first day I found the blue lake and the silver forest. The day I killed a panth with my bare hands. The first night I saw the stars, and recognized them for what they were.”
Katha held his hand in hers and said, “I am going to draw blood. It will hurt — a little.” As the ruby liquid oozed from his wrist, the woman went on speaking. “And you cannot recall anything beyond that? Only that you were a boy, and that you grew up?”
“Only that. It was many years before I saw another . . . human. The Trylla are not desert-dwellers. They like their cities. But I saw a caravan, and came close to examine it, and when the guards saw me, I ran so swiftly they started rumors.”
Her mouth smiled in amusement as she walked across the room.
“No wonder. A man who can outrun three aircraft is quite a runner.”
“From that began the tales about me. A hunter would shoot and miss. That started my invincibility legend. After many years, during which I found the Tower, they sent a delegation to me, to ask me to be their god, to take the ruby throne.”
“How did you learn to speak, if you never knew other men and women?”
Tyr paused. Some of his education he had gotten from the books in the Tower. His other knowledge, and it was vast, he secured from eavesdropping in the narrow alleys of Yawarta.
But he said, “Oh, I just picked it up.”
“The tower you mention. What is that?”
“An old building I broke into. It stands by itself on the Desert of the Whipping Wind.”
“Can you read?”
“No,” he lied.
She was sliding a splinter of glass under a frosted screen, and depressing a button, and bending. Tyr watched, wondering what she sought.
“That is too bad,” she murmured. For if you—you—you—ohh!”
Her face whitened as she stared at him.
“What is it?”
“Your blood . . . if it is blood. It is so — so different!”
KATHA put out a white hand and deflected a switch on the wall. A section of paneling slid back, disclosing a screen on which stood the three-dimensional images of the black-cloaked men in the throne room.
“Space Commander, I must see you. Already the preliminary test has disclosed revolutionary reactions.”
Her voice was excited. It made the bald, lean man jump a little. Tyr saw him stride toward him, loom larger and larger, walk out of the screen and—disappear. A moment later, the laboratory door opened and Mason entered.
“What is it, Katha?” he said coolly.
“His blood. It is not blood that we know, that carries food and oxygen, and the toxins. It is alien. The cell structure is apparently designed to transmit — this is going to sound silly, and I haven’t the opportunity of checking my first impressions, to make sure — but the cells appear constructed to transmit pure energy in the form of sheer heat.”
“But the tissues, girl. In a normal man the food becomes energy in the tissues. How — ?”
“I don’t know. Look for yourself.”
She stood away from the microscope, gesturing toward it. Space Commander Mason bent to the screen. His right hand raised the electronic power an hundred units. He stood like that for many minutes, frowning, scarcely breathing. When he straightened, he looked at Tyr for a long time, breathing harshly.
He said, “It seems to be a blood that carries nothing but radiating heat pulses. That means he intakes his energy pure. The efficiency rate is perfect. Katha, he isn’t a man. Not a man such as we know men.”
Katha took Tyr by the arm and led him behind a fluoroscope machine, saying, “Stand here, please.” Mason was eyeing him steadily as he walked in front of the screen.
Tyr grinned to himself. They were in for a shock, if this machine did what he thought it did.
The room darkened. A pale green glow came and pulsed. The plate before him seemed to hum softly. The dark blobs of shadow that were the Commander and Katha moved suddenly and grew still. Deadly still.
“The machine is wrong!” croaked Commander Mason.
“It was tested yesterday, Commander. Besides, he has a heart, and a blood stream.”
“No stomach! No lungs! No intestines!” he breathed.
“And in place of them, strange organs that we know nothing of. Commander, let me take him to the home planet for study What an experience. A mutant that — “
“A mutant! And what a mutant!!”
Katha said reflectively, “He has organs in place of digestive tracts that are designed for some purpose. But what purpose?”
Tyr slid away from the fluoroscope machine. He flexed his muscles. Long enough now had he rested and played their games with them. Now he was going into action.
“Commander, about my offer — “
“Quiet, man. Quiet! I need to think. A long time ago I knew a man who said — but no! What I am thinking is incredible. It could not be. And yet — and yet — “
“My muscles may be different, too,” he said. “About my offer. Is it peace or war? All I want — “
Space Commander Mason moved his right hand swiftly downwards. It came up from beneath his cloak with a gun. He smiled grimly, “You’re big and you’re powerful as a bullock, and you’re different. I don’t want to test your skin with a shower of light photons, but — “
Katha came up to Tyr. There was a hungry look in her eyes and about her mouth. She whispered, “Be sensible, god of the Trylla! You are a long time dead. Come with me. Later you can meet the Space Commander, when his surprise has worn off.”
Across the black sheen of her coiled hair he looked at the bald man and read a pride as great as his own in the blue eyes. Dimly he knew that Commander Mason was possessed of a will of steel and power as great as his own, among his people. Tyr nodded.
“I will come with you.”
Katha lifted her black cloak and threw it around her slender shoulders. She cast a red-lipped smile at him and tucked her arm through his.
“Come along to my apartment,” she laughed. “I want you to tell me more about yourself.”
THE ALLEYS were dark and deserted. Underfoot the rounded edges of the calanian cobblestones bit into their thin sandals. The cyclopean stone structures towered black and forbidding against the pale grayness of the night sky. Like spiderwebs of giant structure, great space-vox antennae were flung from tower to tower.
They walked slowly through the warm night, and others walked faster. It was Tyr who heard the clanking of a guard’s accouterments, the thump of a holstered ray-gun smiting a trousered thigh, the harsh rattle-clang of manacles and chains.
His wrist dragged her against him, and back with him into the shadows of a recessed door. Many men were coming down the street. There were a lot of chains, too.
A sliver of moonlight touched the leading man who walked stooped with iron and the pain of open whip-cuts.
“Zarman!” breathed Tyr.
His brain raced. Zarman was the governor appointed by Tyr. The ardth had taken him and flogged him. It was a sign of their power over Tyr. The people needed a sign from their god. If he were to free Zarman and send him back to the people —
Tyr was across the cobblestones and his right fist was coming up in a short arc. A startled guard did not have time to open his mouth before the back of his head touched his spine and his neck cracked under that blow. Tyr lowered him with his left hand in the small of his back, as he snatched up the heat-gun from the holster.
“Tyr!” sobbed Zarman, straightening.
The others knew him too, and in place of the blind pain and despair, came the laugh of hope to snap their backs straight and their chins forward.
“Beware,” they whispered. “There are more of them.”
Tyr moved into the shadows, saying, “Keep marching. Turn at the corner and wait.”
The guards came on unsuspecting, but this time there were three of them, talking and jesting. Tyr came out of the shadows with naked hands and he hit so fast that one guard writhed on the stone street before the others had their guns out. Another dropped with splintered ribs. The third opened his mouth to scream. Two big hands took his throat and vised on it.
Tyr dropped the guard and nodded to the prisoners, “Keep moving. Zarman waits for me around the corner.”
There were only two more guards. Tyr charged low. His fists pumped.
Tyr shook himself, standing alone in the alley, with the moon above beaming down at him, bathing him in silver. The street was deserted except for a white face above a dark cloak, and Tyr. The girl had a gun in her hand.
“Shoot,” Tyr said, tensing himself.
“Goose,” whispered the girl, and bent her head to watch her hand holster her weapon.
“Why do you not shoot?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I always was a sucker for an underdog.”
But there was another explanation in her dark eyes looking up at him that made Tyr blink. He caught her elbow and walked with her around the corner.
“Forget her. Tell me of yourself.”
“The Old Ones caught us easily. Otho blabbed with his traitorous mouth. They came and took us, though we fought.”
“If I set you free, what can you do for your freedom?”
“We can fight, god Tyr. We can burrow like the mole, and battle like a cornered rat. Try us!”
Katha went around the corner for the key to the manacles. She searched the implements of the guards and brought it back proudly.
The men lowered the chains and manacles into a hole they dug beneath the cobblestones. They reset the stones and kicked the dirt into crevices between them. One of them took the gun Tyr handed him.
Zarman made a motion to the men, and they faded out of sight.
“We go underground. Into the old tunnels dug during the war with the ardth. Only the Trylla know those labyrinths.”
“Good. I shall get word to you.”
Katha sighed when Zarman was out of sight.
Tyr asked dryly as they walked, “Why did you not shoot me? You had your gun out.”
“That was for the guards—in case your fists were not enough.”
“But you are an ardth!” The girl sighed and said, “It is such a nice moon. And we are almost at my rooms.” She laughed softly, and Tyr wondered why.
TYR HAD NEVER SEEN such sybaritic luxury as was revealed when he let the gold thread drapes rustle across the arched doorway behind him. Strewn cushions, plump and fat, with red-and-white worked in thin curves across their surfaces; the blue tinted walls that radiated warmth; the richly toned murals and the hidden lights bespoke limitless wealth. Low bookcases crammed the walls. Perfume pervaded the cool air. It was a feminine scent, cloying, lingering.
Katha lifted a scarlet jug and poured cool white liquid into two crystal hemispheres. One she handed to Tyr, the other she raised in her white, red-nailed hand.
“To freedom,” she laughed softly, and drank.
The white wine was rich and heady, and it warmed his throat going down. Tyr sipped again, and again. He looked around the room with unveiled eyes.
This was just one apartment of one girl. She ranked high in the councils of the ardth, but this was a planet far from home. And all the luxury before him Why, one of those pillows with the red-and-white curves would make Fay’s eyes bulge in jealousy. And he was pitting himself against a race that could give a woman this, for herself!
He grimaced. What could one man — even such as Tyr — do against such a race? He should quit now and enjoy himself with this woman who looked at him with those steady black eyes. He told himself all that, hating the truth of it.
A cool hand snuggled into his palm. “Tell me about you,” Katha smiled.
“There isn’t anything to tell.”
“You have strength and incredible speed. But what are your other powers, Tyr? You are a mutant, a changeling. You know that. But why, Tyr? Why? Nature doesn’t try changes unless she is fitting a being for something.”
Katha was very close to him. She was perfumed and she was womanly, and Tyr was used to neither. She was as subtle and complex as some rare drug, where Fay was as transparent, in her childish hungers, as plate glass.
It may have been the white wine, he thought afterward, but all he saw now was her red mouth and the mocking amusement swimming in her black eyes. He kissed her, holding her close in his arms.
“We’re straying from the subject,” she smiled up at him from his arms.
It was then that the cough sounded, from the golden drapes of the door. Otho stood smirking in the opening, eyes leering. From head to toe he glistened in a rainbow colored silk that bellied and sank about his form with a sensitiveness to air currents that made it seem alive. He had a gun in his hand and it was leveled at Tyr.
Tyr did not think he moved fast, but he was in front of Otho even as the eyes of the other were commencing to widen in fright. Tyr hit the gun upward, slamming it against Otho’s sneering mouth where it made a wide gash. The gun fell to the rug, and Tyr put out his hands and took hold of the sleazy silk and lifted. Otho dangled a foot off the floor.
“I could break your spine,” Tyr whispered.
Otho was white. He dared not speak.
“I could put the fingers of one hand around your fat neck and snap it.”
Otho closed his eyes and shuddered.
Tyr dropped him and Otho fell loosely to the floor and rolled over and came to his hands and knees. The big brown god of the Trylla loomed vast and massive above his crouching form.
“You do not show respect to your god, Otho,” Tyr grinned dangerously. “Nor to a woman. At least, you might be courteous, if you are not religious.”
Tyr listened to the mumble that came from the man’s mouth, watched him crawl away. He turned to Katha, “That is the governor Mason gave the Trylla.”
Katha let her hip rest against the onyx tabletop as her white fingers sought for an hydroette. The end came greenly alive at her first intake of breath. Blowing green smoke from between her red lips she leaned back and laughed softly.
“You know, you are a god in some ways. Your very bigness, the titanic strength and speed of you. If you swore allegiance to the ardth, you would rise fast. You would be a space commander in a few years.”
“Is that a promotion over being a god?”
“Tyr, listen to me. Be sensible. Use that brain of yours. You have a brain, and a good one. It is untutored, but it sops up knowledge as a Venusian sponge does water I saw your eyes moving in that laboratory of mine. You deduced the uses of the fluoroscope, the electronic microscope. You needed only to see them in action — “
She caught her breath. The skin around her lips showed white, as her mouth tightened. “Perhaps you could even duplicate them, given time and the materials, just from seeing them. Could you, Tyr?”
Tyr wondered, himself. His mind held a confused jumble of plates and wires, and remembrances of diagrams he had seen in books in the Tower. Left alone, he rather imagined he could do what Katha hinted. Especially if he worked in sunlight. For the sun would open the facets of his mind, make his brain as keen and alive as his body, give it that subconscious awareness of knowledge that awed him.
“It may be racial memories,” he said slowly. “In most men those are buried too deeply for practical use. But with me it may be different. I do know that things do not long remain a mystery with me, once I ponder on them.”
Katha walked across the room, staring at the cushions that she kicked idly aside. Her thin brows were puckered.
“I said you could be a Space Commander, Tyr. You could be more than that. You could be Presider itself, if—if what I think about you is true.
“The Trylla think the ardth a heartless crew. Oh, I know. But what the Trylla, and the other inhabitants of the planets we have taken over do not know is this: We ardth are facing a fight against extinction. It won’t come for centuries, but it is coming, as surely as you live.
“The Glows are dying!”
“And when that happens, all our cities and all our spaceships—you might say our lives as well—will come to a stop. If you — “
MEN CAME through the doorway, and Space Commander Mason was in front of them. Otho poked his fat and sneering face between two ardth and laughed at Tyr. The men splayed out and Mason walked toward them, a grim smile on his lips.
“You’ve left quite a trail behind you tonight, Tyr,” he said. “Those guards, then Otho. I tried to treat with you as an equal. Your word means much with the Trylla. But I made a mistake.”
Katha ran before the Commander and said swiftly, “Katha reporting on mutant Tyr of the planet Lyallar. From observations, my conclusions are that he is an advanced form of life, requiring no food but taking his energy directly from another source. That his strength is phenomenal. That his brain is superhuman. That he must be tested further. My recommendation is— “
Mason put her aside and gestured to his men.
” — that he be shipped to the home planet for study.”
Tyr shook his head and said, “No,” but he never took his eyes away from the man with the bald head.
Mason lifted his hand suddenly.
And Tyr moved.
He went fast, so fast that his arms were mere blurs lifting Mason off his feet and flinging him. He swung up over a table and drove both heels into a man’s chest. He hit another splat on the jaw just as the man’s finger tightened on the trigger and a bolt of fire went toward the high ceiling. Now their guns were aiming and shooting yellow bolts at him. He caught three of them on his chest.
Those yellow fires burned momentarily, before his pores could suck their ravening power into his system. But they filled him with a wild, savage elation. His throat keened as he charged the men by the entrance, who knelt and fired as their eyes widened, seeing him come, growing bigger and bigger before them.
He did not stop. He ran over the men, and left them broken on the floor.
Tyr chuckled grimly, his feet treading a rug. His big right fist held a solar-gun that he had wrenched from a falling soldier. A weapon for the Trylla His shoulder splintered a door with two hundred pounds of energy behind it. The lock went through the wood and Tyr was onto the cobblestones.
The street was dark and empty. He ran with the wind, dodging around corners and leaping along straight streets. Far behind him there came shouts and the dull thumping of pounding feet.
The cyclopean walls of Yawarta rose before him. Here and there hung the great nets of the fishermen, hung out to dry on stout wooden pegs. Up then he went, his arms lifting his massive body with ease. From bastion to ledge he went up the wall like a scurrying spider.
Now he stood on the broad top, beneath the stars. He raised an arm and waved it at the city, and went over the other side.
He ran free, away from Yawarta.
Behind him he could hear the phiffft — phiffft of the jet planes rising to pursue him, leaping upwards like hounds from the racing barriers. Tyr grinned and stretched his long legs out so that the ground sped by eerily. They could not catch him under the stars, not with this weapon in his hand.
Wind whistled past his ears. He headed for the silver forests he could see in the dim distance. He would be under their shelter soon.
Beams of light showered the ground, hunting him. They slid all around, missing him as he dodged gracefully, swerving from their pale radiance.
Soon he would be beneath those trees. Nothing on all Lyallar could catch him then.
Tyr swung the solar gun upward, put the cold muzzle to his naked chest, and pulled the trigger.
SUNLIGHT tinted the bluffs a pale amber, spreading a gossamer gold across the shelving stone ledges. It made dark shadows undulate in rock crevices, and sent tiny cascades of brilliant red and yellow from veins of quartz. The cliffs towered high above a rolling countryside where hummocks of grass grew in clustered greenness.
Tyr stood erect on the jagged tongue of rock, staring down at a file of men and women walking across the hills. He was naked but for the white cloth at his middle into which the butt of the solar gun protruded at a rakish angle. Towering huge in the morning sun, he looked the god, by every inch of him, that the Trylla thought him to be.
He grinned and patted the walnut handle of the weapon. That blast of power had given him needed energy last night, when the sun was on the other side of the planet. His follicles had drunk it in, and his strange organs filtered it throughout his body.
All night long had he run, yet he was fresh and strong.
Now he looked across the brown valley, and saw the Trylla walking across it, beginning the long ascent up the other side. Here and there he recognized familiar figures. Fay was at the head of the column, just ahead of young Texel and grim old Gaarn. Tyr scanned the blue sky. No ardth-men there!
He lowered himself over the jagged edge of the bluff. His canny feet, feeling about like sensitive fingers, found chinks in the weather-worn rock. He went down foot by foot, yet swiftly.
When he dropped the last twenty feet to the crumbly valley bottom, the Trylla were only a few miles from him. His straight descent had saved him hours of travel. He could catch them now in a matter of minutes.
Fay saw him first, turning her golden head almost as if some telepathic thought commanded her. She cried out, and the slender column wavered and halted.
Tyr came up to her with outstretched hands and a smile on his lips, but the smile faded when he saw her eyes.
“Why have you returned?” she asked numbly. “You made your bargains with the ardth, for the girl named Katha. What else did they give you for Lyallar, besides the girl?”
“For Lyallar? Besides the girl? Are you mad, Fay? And you others — do you believe what she says? Fay, what — ”
Gaarn said sourly, “Deny it, then. Deny that you went alone with this woman Katha to plot our undoing. Deny that Zarman and others who trusted you were flogged.”
“I plotted no one’s undoing. And as for Zarman—”
“He was flogged, wasn’t he?” howled Texel, his eyes two abysses of anguish.
“Flogged before I—”
Texel spat at him, and Tyr quivered and his hands came up. Sadly, he let them fall again. Force would accomplish nothing. And a god must be understanding.
“I freed Zarman and the others as they were being taken through the streets,” he said patiently. “As for Katha, she is a biologist of the ardth.”
“You were alone with her,” Fay muttered sullenly. “Otho saw you kissing her.”
“Otho ! So that is where you get your news.”
“The talking trees, the silver ones,” said Gaarn between toothless lips. “They pick up subsonic messages. That was how we heard.”
“And of course, you believe. It matters not that the ardth appointed Otho in place of Zarman. Take his word to mine. It was Otho that sent the messages out, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said a woman.
“Otho wants me as a captive. So do the ardth. Otho hopes that you will turn me in. There will be a reward for me. That is why he sent out that message. He wants to turn the Trylla against me.”
He talked to their eyes that reflected their feelings, fighting to recapture their trust, “If the ardth kill me, what hope is left to you? You all say I am a god, your god. Yet you desert me at the first lies of a renegade”
The men shuffled their feet. Their faces were haggard, and lined with bitterness and distrust. In some eyes, Tyr could read real hate.
“Why have you come back?” whispered Fay, staring up at a distant mountaintop. “To turn us in? To give my back to the floggers? Am I that valuable to the ardth!”
Tyr pleaded, “Should I have returned alone, if my purpose was your capture? If that were the case, the skies would be alive with aircraft I knew you were on your way to the Barrow. I could have made you all prisoners by now, if such was my intent. Reason it out. Otho tells you lies to turn you away from the one thing that had any chance of helping you!”
LIKE CHILDREN, their faces grew hopeful, as their minds absorbed his words. Fay was biting her lip. From under her yellow lashes, her brown eyes studied him.
“But you kissed this Katha, didn’t you? You kissed an ardth-woman! The god of the Trylla would never do that.”
Tyr could see her illogical reasoning was swaying the others. They were hesitant, reproachful.
He said defiantly, “I kissed her, because she was a woman and lovely. I — ”
Fay turned her back. The others looked from the girl to Tyr and back at the girl again.
“I am no traitor, because of that kiss. I — “
They were not listening, but following Fay who was walking swiftly away, and toward the hills in the purple distance. His fingers closed on empty bitterness as, he stood there alone, miserable. His people . . . following a girl toward destruction.
Sorrow gnawed in his heart. This was the fate of a god, then, that his children should misunderstand him, perhaps even that they should hate him. Still, he did not blame them. They were so alone, so helpless, and so afraid.
Watching them move away, Tyr knew they needed him more than ever. They were leaving the only one who stood any chance of helping them. Without him, the Trylla were like toys before the hard, sure hands of the ardth.
He touched the handle of the solar gun and let his fingers trail away.
He would have to find the Barrow alone, now.
TWO DAYS LATER, Tyr parted the green fronds of a mountain bush and looked at the gleaming whiteness of the Barrow. It was a low rounded dome, lying across the hard whitish rocks of a strange mountain peak. From where he stood, he could make out arches receding back in under the dome, many of them. The arches were so many that each looked like a reflection of the others.
The Barrow, he thought with dull triumph. It was camouflaged perfectly. That roundness gave no glint to a watcher in the sky. Its lowness cast no shadow. Its whiteness blended with the dazzling brilliance of the white mountain rocks. No wonder it had stood years without detection. Even looking for it as he was, Tyr almost missed it. Only the arches, seen at a certain angle, betrayed its existence.
He loped toward it, breaking into the open. Only when he was near the arches did he see the woman on the ground to one side, kneeling. Before her a man lay on his back.
Tyr went forward on the tips of his toes, as silent as a breeze moving across rock.
The girl knelt beside the man, was moving her hands over him swiftly, competently. Then she leaned back on her haunches and shook her dark head. The black blouse and white slacks looked familiar. When he saw her face as she raised it, he knew.
“Katha,” he said.
The girl whirled, reaching for a gun at her hip. But when she saw him fully she gave a low cry and scrambled to her feet. “Tyr, Tyr Oh, I’m so glad I’ve found you!” And was running to him.
He tried to be curt, but it was useless. There was too much joy shining out of those black eyes, too much laughter and delight. And she was so feminine He put out his hands and held her arms, making her stay a little away from him. Tyr wondered if she heard the wild pounding of his heart.
“Why?” he asked. “Why are you here? Why did you come searching for me?”
Laughter was like musical hoarseness in her throat. With head flung back so that she could hold him with her eyes, she said, “Because Space Commander Mason ordered that you be shot on sight. Because you are a doomed man. And because I think you may yet save the Trylla. — “
“You are ardth!”
“It makes no difference. What are you, for that matter?”
“I—I don’t know.” He did not know. Always that uncertainty tugged at the core of him. Unknowingness within him, like an emptiness. Who are you, Tyr? What are you? And mad laughter answered, “You do not know. You will never know what you are. A god? Ho! Not you, not Tyr.”
She saw the blankness in his eyes, and the misery. Her voice was soft, tender. “Tyr, can’t you see? You are — Tyr!”
He shook his head, heart dull within his chest.
She cried between a laugh and a sob, “But you are the first, Tyr, the first of your kind! I can tell you that. You are a biochemical newcomer.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. No one knows. You have to prove it to yourself first. You have to learn about you, and then others will know. Who can best understand a new thing but the thing itself! Explore yourself, Tyr—and know!”
Katha hooked a finger in the black braid of her belt and made traceries in the sand with the toe of her sandal. “I had to come and find you. I could not let you die. Besides, there is something in what you do. If the Trylla could be made friendly to the ardth they would help us. Perhaps they could find the way to keep the Glows from dying. The ardth need help. You might be the agent to bring ardth and Trylla together.”
From the depths of his bitterness, Tyr laughed harshly.
“I am but one against the ardth. I have no allies. Even the Trylla turn their faces from me. The only thing that keeps me going is the thought that a god must protect his people. Even if they hate him.”
“Then think of the rewards that the Trylla may reap, if you unite them with the ardth in friendship. The ardth are not only conquerors, but colonizers as well. In the far-flung span of cities that spread from the home planets fan-wise beyond even Fornax, there are many marvels.
“You have never been to Zafega on Fomalhaut-2. You have not beheld the creata-screens, where your dreams become reality, where the deeps of the subconscious are caught in graphs and translated into pictures. That is incredible beauty, and horror in one. No one is ever the same, having beheld his dreams in a waking moment.
“Then there are the historays that recapture the past, making a living, breathing thing of it. You could see the history of all Lyallar, Tyr, from its primordial beginnings until the — “
Tyr whispered roughly, “That sight would make me realize even more bitterly what it means to be a Tryllan — and alive — these days.”
Katha turned her back to him, looking across the rock and sand to a distant fringe of silver trees. Tyr bit his lip, staring at her shapely shoulders. Fool! To alienate the one person on all the planet who cared whether —
An old face lying on the ground, his eyes saw. Gaunt brown cheeks, and sparse gray hair on a round skull. Harl. The ancient one with a brain filled with the magic of war and the knowledge of sciences lost to all the Trylla, other than himself. Harl was dead.
KATHA KILLED HIM. That was why she was here. She cared not a fig for his chances of freeing the Trylla. She was a spy. And he believed her talk of screens and luxuries and the joys of joining the ardth!
His hand vised at her wrist and twisted her around to face him. Her black eyes went wide, frightened at the mad rage in his face. Under the grip of that hand, her knees dug into the sand.
“You murdered him. You — “
“No! Oh, no, Tyr!” His heart stopped from excitement. He — he thought the ardth had found the Barrow. It is the Barrow, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he muttered numbly, looking away from her toward the receding, confusing arches.
Accuse her again, Tyr. Do not let those big black eyes fool you. She is a traitress, is she? She is a spy, instead. Accuse the one thing on all Lyallar that believes in you. Smash her belief. Kill her with your hands. Stand alone, as always you have done.
“No!” he moaned, swaying on big legs, widespread.
The woman knelt, looking up at him.
His eyes closed as thoughts rocketed across his brain. She killed Harl. She wears no gun, his body bears no mark of violence! She is a spy for Mason, and will betray you. She has come alone to you! Kill her, and be safe. Trust not in your strength to fight what may come.
He put out his big hands and caught her shoulders. He lifted her up and held her against him. He rained kisses on her soft mouth.
She stirred after a while, gently.
She whispered, her black head nestled to his chest, “You love me, Tyr?”
“You came to the Barrow, Tyr. Let us do what you would have done. Rumor has it that there are weapons inside.”
“Harl was the only one who knew their use.”
She rubbed her arms with her palms, loving the bruise where his hands had dwelt. She chided, “Fie, darling. A god can understand any weapon.” And when he glanced sharply to seek mockery in her eyes, she said simply, “I mean it. You can understand them, if you will. Your mind is different. Try it!”
A labyrinth of strange things and objects, set on shelf and counter, under glass and on metal. Mazes of plasticite and steel, glittering and glimmering, shadowing cones and tridents and metal circlets. And none of it was even remotely understandable to the brown giant who stood and stared.
Katha slipped a hand into his and said, “You can do it, Tyr. Yes, you can!”
He shook his head, but he went and stood before the machines. With narrowed eyes, he studied curving generators and domed turbines. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he began to understand them. If only —
A beam of yellow sunlight swam through a glassine vent in the wall, quivering, moving. It touched Tyr, laving his brown face and dark hair in its radiance. The sunlight was hot and soothing. Tyr smiled faintly, knowing that the light was opening the secret facets of his brain, feeding energy to them, making his mind work whether he wanted it to or not.
He was understanding these silent machines, now.
He touched a button, and watched an engine throb and hum, coming to life. Where the blue discs were was its outlet. They turned red, and glowed. When they went white, a blast of power would splay out, and he did not want that to happen, yet. He shut the power off.
Katha walked with him. “You know?” she asked softly.
“There is a kitchenette off to one side,” she said. “I am going to prepare food for myself. Then tell me your plans!”
When she left him, Tyr turned back to the metal giants, touching levers and rods. He lost himself in their intricacies as a boy does with new and complicated toys.
He did not hear Katha cry out from the next chamber. He did not hear the footsteps. He did not see the girl who came with Gaarn and Trexel to stand in the doorway, a solar gun in her white hand.
A BALL of flame exploded amid the coils and antennae of a big machine. Another fell onto a huge dynamo. Still another whistled shrilly as it clove a path through cones and hoops.
Tyr whirled, but it was too late. Fay was firing rapidly, as fast as she could depress the stud. The yellow blasts ate and drank their way through the machines until every one lay smashed and wrecked.
Tyr laughed bitterly.
“Destroy your every chance,” he said. “Your freedom lies on the floor, amid those twisted metal things.”
Fay lifted the gun and aimed it at him. She said coldly, “The ardth shall never receive our weapons, Tyr. I destroyed them before you could bring the ardth to them.”
“I would never bring the ardth: What mad poison eats in your brains, you Trylla? Without weapons, what may I do?”
“The Old Ones shall never get them”
“The Old Ones do not need these things. They have better ones. A hundred years ago they beat men who used these weapons. In that time they have new weapons, better weapons! What would the ardth want with things like these?”
There was doubt in the eyes of some, but Fay lifted her gun. Tyr walked toward her, seeing the red hate in her eyes. Her finger touched the stud and balls of yellow fire leaped for him, splashed across his chest.
He went on, unstoppable. The energy from the yellow balls poured into him. Muscles rippled on his arms as he reached out and took the gun away from her.
With white hand pressed to her writhing mouth, Fay stared at him in dumb awe. Tyr wrapped his fingers around the gun. The metal crumpled in his hand. When he opened his hand the remnants bounced on the floor.
Tyr put a hand to Fay’s shoulder and pushed her aside. Gaarn and young Texel watched him with fascinated, frightened eyes. He lunged into the chamber where Katha had cried out.
“Katha !” he called.
She lay on a long white table, and there were strong steel straps holding her. Her clothing was somewhat torn. Her dark eyes met his from the corners as her red mouth smiled a little.
“I tried to warn you. The Trylla do not like the ardth. They wanted me alive to learn secrets from me.” She made a grimace. “I don’t know whether I could have stood up to torture.”
“I am no longer god of the Trylla,” he rasped bitterly, looking down at her. “I am hated by them. Now I am – nothing!”
She was very round and soft on his ribs. Tyr tightened his arm, watching her mouth. Katha made a face and mocked him.
“Man or god — you hurt!”
He eased his arms a little, still holding her tightly. He went down the corridor of the arches as Fay and the others watched from the shadows. His footfalls were soft, but deadly. It was as though his feet intoned a danse macabre for the Tryllan race.
Tyr carried the girl to her jet plane that had been hidden among the rocks. He lifted her into it and swung up, both hands on the smooth plasticine handles. The door clicked behind him.
Katha dropped into a red leather seat before an intricate control-board. Her white fingers touched pins. The ship rumbled and shuddered. Slowly it trundled forward, gathering momentum. From the port window, Tyr watched the white dome of the Barrow falling away below. He turned his eyes to the front, seeing her lift the plane over a fringe of hibithius trees to arrow into the cloudless sky.
“Katha, I am homeless.”
Homeless and a wanderer, without a people. The Trylla had been his people, if a god ever had people. Now they had turned against him, broken with him, even tried to kill him. There was bitterness on his tongue and in his heart. A bitterness that burned and galled.
From the depths of his anguish, he cried, “I want to be a part of something, Katha! I am neither Tryllan nor ardth. What am I?”
The woman caught his hand and pressed it to her lips. She whispered softly, “To me you are always a god, Tyr. I love you. You love me.”
“I have you. Yes, that makes up for everything else.”
He sighed, “But I keep telling myself that I have failed. That I have not done all I could to free the Trylla.”
“What of the tower, Tyr? You said it had strange things in it. Perhaps it is a laboratory, of sorts. I might make tests there, of you, seek to know your purposes, your abilities.”
“Yes, the tower. I’d forgotten that. It could be a home to us. An ardth-woman and a-an unknown”
“I am ardth no longer. I gave that up when I came after you. I knew what I was doing.”
He knelt and caught her to him, saying, “There is no place for either of us, except with the other. Two wanderers.”
“Two wanderers,” she sighed. “With a purpose. A mad, insane belief in themselves. To fight even when there is no chance of victory!”
THE TOWER stood gaunt and lonely, rising up into a blue sky. Baked dirt powdered into clouds under their feet as they walked toward it. The tower was strong and thickly built, and it towered above the flat earth in its loneliness. In that respect, it was a little like Tyr himself, Katha thought. She studied the flat buttresses and arched windows.
“An ardth-man built that,” she said.
“If he did, he made it a laboratory and home at the same time.”
Katha furrowed her thin black brows. “But what ardth ever built such a tower on Lyallar?” she wondered.
Tyr pushed open the big wooden door. The round room was walled with dials and panels, cool and dim. It gave off a faint and musky smell. A circular table was covered with vials and bell jars and retorts. Shelves lined the walls, and bottles lined the shelves. At the far side of the room, a metal stairway twisted its way to the upper floors.
Katha wandered around, delight shining in her eyes. She lifted vials and smelled at chemicals. Laughter gurgled in her throat.
“But this is marvelous. It’s almost as complete as my own lab. Now who built this place, Tyr? Can you tell me?”
He showed her a big book bound in tooled leather.
“William Rohrig!” she cried at sight of the golden letters stamped into the cover. “Why — why, he was an ardth genius We often wondered what became of him. He was to travel to Antares, to study life conditions on one of its outer planets. Commander Mason would be delighted— “
She broke off, glancing sideways at Tyr.
He said, “If it were not for me, you could go back. You could go anyhow. I — “
Her white palm covered his mouth. “Don’t say it, Tyr. We’ll see this through, you and I.”
“If there were only some way in which I could convince the ardth that they and the Trylla could live in peace! The Trylla mistrust me and the ardth hate me, for I threaten their power. Katha, Katha! There is no answer.”
“There is always an answer to a problem. The only trouble is, it takes a long time to see it.”
While Tyr worked at the table, making tests and experiments under Katha’s guidance, to test the powers of his mind, Katha made the tower her own. Sunlight bathed Tyr through an open window. Above him he heard her footsteps going to and fro, heard her lifting things, and the squeals of delight when she unearthed notebooks that had once been Rohrig’s.
They spent their days in work and laughter. Katha made many tests on him, saying, “You are a biological miracle, darling. I don’t know much about miracles, so I have to learn, slowly and gropingly.”
BUT she never completed her findings. For one day she discovered, tucked into a corner of the big desk on the second floor, a dusty old diary. For three hours she sat entranced with it, never stirring, until Tyr came hunting her, anxious over her silence. He found her with tears in her eyes, her white teeth nibbling at her full lower lip.
She looked up at his entrance, whispering, “Do you know your name, Tyr? Your full name?”
“Tyr. A ring round my neck bore it.”
“Those were only your initials. Your real name is Theodore Young Rohrig. Your father was William Rohrig. You are ardth, Tyr !”
He stared at her. She clapped her hands, black eyes glowing.
“He knew about you. Oh, he was brilliant, Tyr—or Ted! He knew your function. He called you a mutant, darling. No stomach, no lungs, no need for water. The future man! I can see, now that my eyes have been opened. It is Nature, striving all the time for perfection, equipping her products with the necessities to get along in their environments. In you she is fitting man for space travel, darling!
“Out there among the stars, without lungs and with no need for food or water, you could strip a ship down and really travel. Light-years wouldn’t mean a thing to you. Just a battery of sun-lamps to feed you. You wouldn’t age hardly at all, for you derive your heat from outside sources, instead of generating it in your tissues, as normal men do! Your organs merely transmit the heat and energy into your muscles and brain. There is no food to be digested and churned into energy, to be broken into heat-energy in the cells. Your energy comes from outside!”
“You make it sound important.”
“It is important! I feel I don’t understand how important you really are.”
Grimly he said, “Now if only we could convince the ardth and the Trylla of that!”
Katha caught his arm, saying fiercely, “Tyr—Ted—oh, I’ll call you Tyr! You can’t give up. You must fight. The ardth are fighters, Tyr. Your father was a fighter. He came here with his wife because he had space leprosy That’s right. And his wife came with him. You were born on Lyallar—far, so far from your home planet. He died a long time ago, did William Rohrig, but his fighter’s heart didn’t die.”
A red fingernail stabbed into the flesh of his chest. “That heart is in you, Tyr. It wants to fight. Maybe it doesn’t know how, but you are sad only for that reason. You aren’t fighting!” Tyr whispered hoarsely, “Tell me how, Katha. How shall I fight?”
“How do you want to fight? What does your heart and your brain tell you?”
He stood and let the sunlight hit his forehead. It grew hotter and hotter as he stood there, and inside his skull he felt something stirring, and knew it for his opening brain. Fight them where they are most vulnerable, Tyr. Hit them at their core! The inner voice that was his thought whispered again, Destroy the Glow!
“I must destroy the Glow,” he said to her.
The sunlight made a pattern on his chest as he turned. “Nevertheless, that is what I must do.”
The woman bowed her head and took his hand.
THE CITY OF MART sprawled like a lazing slug upon the prairie. Aircraft sped across its walls, winging into illimitable distances. The deep hum of trades-men’s voices as they called their wares mingled with the smooth roll of gyro-cars, rising to form the soul of the great metropolis. Armed guards clanged along the tops of the pyramidal walls.
A tall man clad like a mountain shepherd, in wool cloak and hood, stalked beside a woman who went with down bent head, clinging to his arm. Once in a while the woman whispered to him, and the man made a turn into a different street.
They had dust on their cloaks and dust on their feet, those two. Occasionally the woman stumbled, for she was a born actress. Yet an airplane lay less than three miles from the city walls, hidden by boughs torn from hibithius-trees.
“We are almost at the Commune,” whispered the woman.
“There are no people here,” the man said.
“Your Trylla approach not near to the building that houses the Glow. They fear it too much.”
They went faster, lengthening their steps. Opposite a tall white building that had ardth lettering graven into its stone, they slowed and the woman spoke again.
“That is where the Glow is, hidden deep in the bowels of earth beneath the Citadel. Always are there guards there. They must be overcome.”
The man threw back the cloak, revealed big chest and long arms naked under it. Head flung back, he studied the building eagerly. “They will be overcome!” The cloak fell to the flagging and the golden giant was gone in long strides that carried him to the doors of the Citadel and within them. The woman stood watching, then bent and lifted his fallen cloak, threw it over her arm, and followed.
Inside the darkness of the Citadel, Tyr went on bare feet, with uncanny silence. A guard came toward him, and he darted into the shadows. When the guard was five paces away, Tyr struck.
He lowered the guard, and went on. Voices came from ahead of him.
“This Tyr will know how strong are the ardth when he learns what has befallen Zarman !”
“Aye! I wonder what has become of him? Is he dead?”
“Not he. He bides his time. He hopes for a rising of the Tryllal”
“With Zarman and his crew to be executed today, what chance have the Trylla?”
Tyr was turned to stone. His heart hammered inside his chest. Zarman to die! But how had the ardoth taken him? Once captured, he would be twice as wary His hands lifted in the shadows toward the guards, but he held them still.
Tyr swung about and went on.
He did not know of the men outside in the street who halted suddenly and looked at Katha excitedly. Their footfalls as they ran across the street toward her went unheard by him as he raced along the corridors of the Citadel.
Katha had no chance to scream. A wrist jammed her throat and an ardth voice whispered, “Traitoress!”
Tyr ran on.
A heavy throb pounded through the steel corridors, and along the polished runways, and into the paneled rooms of the Citadel. Deep down, seemingly in the guts of the planet, came the monotonous, frightening beat and thunder of the Glow, pulsing in a powerful rhythm. Not many men stayed long in this building, and the guards were changed every few hours. No one had run into it with such gladness as did Tyr, ever.
His feet barely touched the floor as he ran. He flexed his muscles, testing his strength. He was fit and ready from a week of lying in blazing sunlight, from basking under sunlamps arranged by Katha to aid her in her tests.
A guard saw him and yanked at a gun, but Tyr took his face in the palm of his hand and banged his head against the polished steel wall, and left him twitching but alive. Tyr ran swiftly now, heading down and always downward along the ramps, deeper into the earth.
On a lintel before a metal elevator was inscribed an ardth word. Tyr knew it to be the warning of the Glow. But he put out his hand and opened the elevator door and stepped within. He threw the switch.
There was a falling sensation for a moment, but that passed as Tyr walked around his little cell, working his arms and legs. He was tense and excited, waiting, waiting. This was to be the test. Katha said if he lived through it, that it would be the most marvelous sensation of his entire life. That it would, in some alchemic way, transmute him.
It was warm now. The car was falling faster and faster. Tyr wondered why the ardth bothered to have a car at all. If the Glow was all rumor had it to be, the ardth would have to build a new car every time this journey was taken. But the ritual of the thing! The ardth must maintain their superstitious hold on the Trylla.
He smiled. The ardth! They were his race, a people that called a planet called Earth their home. It sounded so like the Tryllan word ardth, meaning old, that the Trylla had always called them that. Even the Earth-men accepted the term.
Hot was the car, like some monstrous bubble of fiery air. The light, yellow and brilliant and blinding, came seeping in through cracks in the jointures of the door.
The metal of the car was turning red, deepening to a cherry rose, fading to a cold blue, dawning to a pale white . . .
* * * * *
In the Auditorium of Ancestors, Space Commander Mason sat languidly on the high-backed ivory throne under an arched canopy. Sprayed fan-wise before him were gorgeously uniformed ardth officers, stiff-backed as they faced the girl with black hair and black eyes.
Fifteen feet from the throne, Katha stood with head flung back, smiling at Commander Mason. “Your men are efficient, Space Commander,” she said “They found me on the street.”
“There is no one as lovely as Katha among the ardth,” smiled Mason. “There is no one as treacherous, either.”
“I fled to Tyr because I felt him to be of help to us. He is—and will be a help. He has gone now to destroy the Glow.”
Mason was out of his seat in one tremendous explosion of speed. His hands caught her arms.
“Destroy the Glow? Are you mad? Is he? Nothing can destroy the Glow What secret does he know?”
“No secret, other than himself. He is Tyr.”
Mason clenched a fist, saying, “You said he could help us. It is no help to destroy the Glow!”
“He cannot destroy it. He will learn that!”
“I think he will, too. It will destroy him, long before he reaches it. But I have spoken enough with you. You must die for actions performed detrimental to the ardth welfare.”
Space Commander Mason clapped his hands. Guards entered a doorway, and behind them came ragged men with flogged backs, bleeding, wearing manacles. Katha started toward them, before Mason caught her.
She called, “Which of you is Zarman?”
A big man lifted a face swollen with beatings. His eyes were sullen as he looked across the room, at a group of Trylla clad in rainbow colored silk garments. Otho smirked beside Fay, who wore a gigantic emerald necklace on her white throat. Her hand fingered it lovingly. On her hand gleamed a golden ring with the letters TYR engraven on it.
“She bears the ring of Tyr,” rasped Zarman. “She came to us with a lying message and we believed her. She led us to — the ardth!”
Fay tossed her blonde curls indifferently, and glanced down at the necklace that once had belonged to Queen Yatha-sath.
Commander Mason cleared his throat.
“Take them all, including Katha, to the Square of Dying. We will witness their hanging together.”
* * * * *
Tyr laughed aloud and stretched, feeling a mad inferno of fire bathing him. His pores were opening, one by one, accepting that insane incandescence with a strange and alien hunger. A man would have died in madness long ago, but Tyr did not die.
There was brightness here, all around him as he watched the car flare in riotous colors. The iridescent hues of red and blue and white flashed for a quivering instant, then puffed into mist that was like a bath of minute motes of color.
Tyr reached for an outcropping of volcanic rock, and clung to it. He lifted himself, and stood on a stone ledge.
Beneath him, suspended in a mighty chasm, was the Glow.
The Glow was a tiny sun!
It hung in an endless abyss. It pulsed and throbbed and quivered, and shot streamers of fire upwards and around it. From its moving core, the leaping tongues shot out, expending its energy and, by its own inconceivable heat, restoring the elements to begin the process all over again.
Many ages ago, the Earth-men discovered solar energy. When deVries invented the multi-linear umbra-cell, he discovered that it would hold hordes of hydrogen atoms that could be heated to a point that made them an atomic sun. From these bits of power scientists built small suns of their own, and hung them in deep abysses. From their everlasting power they sapped the energy needed to drive their machines and light their homes. They fed the solar power through tentacles of spun carborungsten into generators and dynamos.
The Earth-men took these suns with them across the voids, to planets like Lyallar, and strung them in their deepest chasms. And where went the suns, they were objects of dread and awe.
This one was no object of dread to Tyr.
Standing on the lip of rock, he laughed and raised his arms, and felt that titanic heat and energy flow directly into him. Tyr had no need for carborungsten cables to power the dynamo of his body. The follicles of his skin opened their hungry mouths and sucked that energy into him.
Tyr was changing, standing there.
He was becoming energy itself, every pore and organ of him filling to capacity with the heat and light of that glowing orb. He was charged to bursting.
Tyr turned to the jagged stone wall, and began to climb.
* * * * *
A gallows stood in the Square of Dying, lifting its black arms toward a blue sky. From the crosspiece hung plasticine nooses, like silvery webs. Men and one woman stood below those hoops of transparent plastic, on a raised platform.
Space Commander Mason said to Katha, “You realize now that your man—god Tyr is nothing compared to the ardth?”
“Tyr is the only hope the ardth have,” she whispered. “I have told you his father was William Rohrig.”
“A tale calculated to amaze me. I do not believe you.”
“I told you how his body is different, that it can sop up solar energy and translate it into terms of human energy without wear or tear on his system. That he is future man, man in a body fitted to venture out in space, far beyond where we have gone.”
“I still do not believe.” A man came and looped the noose around the woman’s neck. She shook her head when he would have covered it with a purple mask. “I tell you now, Commander Mason, that the only one who can renew the Glows is Tyr. Our electro-astrogines have informed us that the elements needed to make new Glows exists only on the planets close to the great suns. Every expedition we sent to those planets perished of heat before they reached them.
“One man could make such a trip Tyr.”
Mason grinned at her. “You’re mad, Katha. Executioner, throw the bolt.” The executioner put his hand on the lever and swung it over.
* * * * *
Tyr climbed the black rock swiftly. Hands and feet felt for and found niches in the rough surface. Up and up he went. Once he stood on a narrow ledge and craned his neck, staring at the blackness where the carborungsten cables gaped their dark orifices. He was going up there, to those cables, and rip them out. He would smash the dynamos, and nothing could stop him.
Over the lip of a metal cable-mouth he went, and his hands showed bright in the darkness as he seized the wires and pulled, ripping them from welded sockets. He tore and broke with his glowing hands, passing them under and over the cables, and tearing.
As he destroyed, he walked. With his fists he battered against a wall of metal and splintered it. He stepped through and walked toward the dynamos that were lazily rotating. Some of them already had come to a halt.
Tyr touched the engines with his hands and summoned the energies of his body. The metal cracked under the strain of that superhuman power. Casings split and bearings crumpled.
Tyr walked on.
THE EXECUTIONER threw the lever, and nothing happened. Katha laughed softly, and there was a light in her dark eyes that made Space Commander yearn.
She whispered, “He has won.”
Mason roared, “Throw the auxiliary engines over!”
But the auxiliary engines were dead, too. Now the ardth-men murmured and whispered among themselves, for the unnatural quiet of the Citadel was hammering their eardrums.
Footsteps sounded on the flagging.
Something tall and something bright was crossing the Street of Space and entering the Square. It was shaped like a man, but its gleaming yellowness was so brilliant that it hurt the eyes to see it.
“Tyr!” screamed Katha.
Space Commander Mason shuddered and put a trembling hand across his eyes. He looked smaller, frail in his dark cloak, standing before the giant who was coming toward him. His officers fell away from him as Tyr came on. To one side a girl with an emerald necklace dropped and lay in a huddled heap on the ground.
From the throats of the manacled Tryllans a roar went up.
“Our god has come for vengeance!”
“Yield, you ardth!” Yield to Tyr!”
“See how he shines in his glory!”
Twenty feet from Mason, Tyr came to a stop, for fear that the heat his body emanated would blast the man.
“Free Katha and Zarman and the others,” the yellow giant said.
“Stay away from me,” he warned Katha, seeing her leaping from the dais of the gallows. “I am still overcharged with energy. It will fade in a little while. Wait.”
Tyr looked at Mason.
“Zarman will be governor of Lyallar. Otho must die. Fay—Fay will be banished for her treachery. Let her keep the emeralds. She will die if we take them from her. The Trylla will live in peace and friendship with the Earth peoples. It is my order.”
Zarman came forward and held out his land to Space Commander Mason who took it thoughtfully. The man with the bald head swung on Tyr.
“Then it is true what Katha said? You can go near a sun? It makes your body like – that?”
“It fills it with heat and light. And heat and light are energy. My body is energy, right now. Later, that peak of pure energy will fade. It will resume its normal look. But potentially, it is always as you see it now … needing only a sun to make it so.”
Katha looked at Mason, across the cobblestones of the square.
She said, “I told you Tyr is the one to renew the Glows. He would not die on a planet near enough to the sun for the elements we need.”
“I will do that,” agreed Tyr. “I am no longer god of the Trylla. I brought them their freedom. I have discharged the responsibility they put about my shoulders when they made me their god.
“My father was ardth. I, too, am ardth. If I can save the ardth. I shall.”
He turned toward Commander Mason and said. “And, being an ardth, I am under your orders, sir.”
Mason drew a deep breath, took off his hat and ran his hand over his bald head. His face wrinkled with amazement, changing to a shy smile.
“My orders, Tyr? Hmm. The first thing you ought to do is — cool off. Then, when you’re able to do it safely, take this woman Katha into your arms and kiss her for her belief in you! After that — you might consider mating with her. Your children will carry a torch, Tyr. To the true ends of the world.”