The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

After a long, sound sleep, Seaton awoke and sprang out of bed. No sooner had he started to shave, however, than one of the slaves touched his arm, motioning him into a reclining chair and showing him a keen blade, long and slightly curved. Seaton lay down and the slave shaved him with a rapidity and smoothness he had never before experienced, so wonderfully sharp was the peculiar razor. After Seaton had dressed, the barber started to shave the chief slave, without any preliminary treatment save rubbing his face with a perfumed oil.

"Hold on a minute," interjected Seaton, who was watching the process with interest, "here's something that helps a lot." He lathered the face with his brush and the man looked up in surprised pleasure as his stiff beard was swept away without a sound.

Seaton called to the others and soon the party was assembled in his room, all dressed very lightly, because of the unrelieved and unvarying heat, which was constant at one hundred degrees. A gong sounded, and one of the slaves opened the door, ushering in a party of servants bearing a table, ready set. During the meal, Seaton was greatly surprised at hearing Dorothy carrying on a halting conversation, with one of the women standing behind her.

"I knew that you were a language shark, Dottie, with five or six different ones to your credit, but I didn't suppose you could learn to talk this stuff in one day."

"I can't," she replied, "but I've picked up a few words of it. I can understand very little of what they are trying to tell me."

The woman spoke rapidly to the man standing behind Seaton, and as soon as the table had been carried away, he asked permission to speak to Dorothy. Fairly running across to her, he made a slight obeisance and in eager tones poured forth such a stream of language that she held up her hand to silence him.

"Go slower, please," she said, and added a couple of words in his own tongue.

There ensued a strange dialogue, with many repetitions and much use of signs. She turned to Seaton, with a puzzled look.

"I can't make out all he says, Dick, but he wants you to take him into another room of the palace here, to get back something or other that they took from him when they captured him. He can't go alone—I think he says he will be killed if he goes anywhere without you. And he says that when you get there, you must be sure not to let the guards come inside."

"All right, let's go!" and Seaton motioned the man to precede him. As Seaton started for the door, Dorothy fell into step beside him.

"Better stay back, Dottie, I'll be back in a minute," he said at the door.

"I will not stay back. Wherever you go, I go," she replied in a voice inaudible to the others. "I simply will not stay away from you a single minute that I don't have to."

"All right, little girl," he replied in the same tone. "I don't want to be away from you, either, and I don't think that we're in any danger here."

Preceded by the chief slave and followed by half a dozen others, they went out into the hall. No opposition was made to their progress, but a full half-company of armed guards fell in around them as an escort, regarding Seaton with looks composed of equal parts of reverence and fear. The slave led the way rapidly to a room in a distant wing of the palace and opened the door. As Seaton stepped in, he saw that it was evidently an audience-chamber or court-room, and that it was now entirely empty. As the guard approached the door, Seaton waved them back. All retreated across the hall except the officer in charge, who refused to move. Seaton, the personification of offended dignity, first stared at the offender, who returned the stare, and stepped up to him insolently, then pushed him back roughly, forgetting that his strength, great upon Earth, would be gigantic upon this smaller world. The officer spun across the corridor, knocking down three of his men in his flight. Picking himself up, he drew his sword and rushed, while his men fled in panic to the extreme end of the corridor. Seaton did not wait for him, but in one bound leaped half-way across the intervening space to meet him. With the vastly superior agility of his earthly muscles he dodged the falling broadsword and drove his left fist full against the fellow's chin, with all the force of his mighty arm and all the momentum of his rapidly moving body behind the blow. The crack of breaking bones was distinctly audible as the officer's head snapped back. The force of the blow lifted him high into the air, and after turning a complete somersault, he brought up with a crash against the opposite wall, dropping to the floor stone dead. As several of his men, braver than the others, lifted their peculiar rifles, Seaton drew and fired in one incredibly swift motion, the X-plosive bullet obliterating the entire group of men and demolishing that end of the palace.

In the meantime the slave had taken several pieces of apparatus from a cabinet in the room and had placed them in his belt. Stopping only to observe for a few moments a small instrument which he clamped upon the head of the dead man, he rapidly led the way back to the room they had left and set to work upon the instrument he had constructed while the others had been asleep. He connected it, in an intricate system of wiring, with the pieces of apparatus he had just recovered.

"That's a complex job of wiring," said DuQuesne admiringly. "I've seen several intricate pieces of apparatus myself, but he has so many circuits there that I'm lost. It would take an hour to figure out the lines and connections alone."

Straightening abruptly, the slave clamped several electrodes upon his temples and motioned to Seaton and the others, speaking to Dorothy as he did so.

"He wants us to let him put those things on our heads," she translated. "Shall we let him, Dick?"

"Yes," he replied without hesitation. "I've got a real hunch that he's our friend, and I'm not sure of Nalboon. He doesn't act right."

"I think so, too," agreed the girl, and Crane added:

"I can't say that I relish the idea, but since I know that you are a good poker player, Dick, I am willing to follow your hunch. How about you, DuQuesne?"

"Not I," declared that worthy, emphatically. "Nobody wires me up to anything I can't understand, and that machine is too deep for me."

Margaret elected to follow Crane's example, and, impressed by the need for haste evident in the slave's bearing, the four walked up to the machine without further talk. The electrodes were clamped into place quickly and the slave pressed a lever. Instantly the four visitors felt that they had a complete understanding of the languages and customs of both Mardonale, the nation in which they now were, and of Kondal, to which nation the slaves belonged, the only two civilized nations upon Osnome. While the look of amazement at this method of receiving instruction was still upon their faces, the slave—or rather, as they now knew him, Dunark, the Kofedix or Crown Prince of the great nation of Kondal—began to disconnect the wires. He cut out the wires leading to the two girls and to Crane, and was reaching for Seaton's, when there was a blinding flash, a crackling sound, the heavy smoke of burning metal and insulation, and both Dunark and Seaton fell to the floor.

Before Crane could reach them, however, they were upon their feet and the stranger said in his own tongue, now understood by every one but DuQuesne:

"This machine is a mechanical educator, a thing entirely new, in our world at least. Although I have been working on it for a long time, it is still in a very crude form. I did not like to use it in its present state of development, but it was necessary in order to warn you of what Nalboon is going to do to you, and to convince you that the best way of saving your lives would save our lives as well. The machine worked perfectly until something, I don't know what, went wrong. Instead of stopping, as it should have done, at teaching your party to speak our languages, it short-circuited us two completely, so that every convolution in each of our brains has been imprinted upon the brain of the other. It was the sudden formation of all the new convolutions that rendered us unconscious. I can only apologize for the break-down, and assure you that my intentions were of the best."

"You needn't apologize," returned Seaton. "That was a wonderful performance, and we're both gainers, anyway, aren't we? It has taken us all our lives to learn what little we know, and now we each have the benefit of two lifetimes, spent upon different worlds! I must admit, though, that I have a whole lot of knowledge that I don't know how to use."

"I am glad you take it that way," returned the other warmly, "for I am infinitely the better off for the exchange. The knowledge I imparted was nothing, compared to that which I received. But time presses—I must tell you our situation. I am, as you now know, the Kofedix of Kondal. The other thirteen are fedo and fediro, or, as you would say, princes and princesses of the same nation. We were captured by one of Nalboon's raiding parties while upon a hunting trip, being overcome by some new, stupefying gas, so that we could not kill ourselves. As you know, Kondal and Mardonale have been at war for over ten thousand karkamo—something more than six thousand years of your time. The war between us is one of utter extermination. Captives are never exchanged and only once during an ordinary lifetime does one ever escape. Our attendants were killed immediately. We were being taken to furnish sport for Nalboon's party by being fed to one of his captive kolono—animals something like your earthly devilfish—when the escort of battleships was overcome by those four karlono, the animals you saw, and one of them seized Nalboon's plane, in which we were prisoners. You killed the karlon, saving our lives as well as those of Nalboon and his party.

"Having saved his life, you and your party should be honored guests of the most honored kind, and I venture to say that you would be so regarded in any other nation of the universe. But Nalboon, the Domak—a title equivalent to your word 'Emperor' and our word 'Karfedix'—of Mardonale, is utterly without either honor or conscience, as are all Mardonalians. At first he was afraid of you, as were we all. We thought you visitors from a planet of our fifteenth sun, which is now at its nearest possible approach to us. After your display of superhuman power and ability, we expected instant annihilation. However, after seeing the Skylark as a machine, discovering that you are short of power, and finding that you are gentle instead of bloodthirsty by nature, Nalboon lost his fear of you and resolved to rob you of your vessel, with its wonderful secrets of power. Though we are so ignorant of chemistry that I cannot understand the thousandth part of what I just learned from you, we are a race of mechanics and have developed machines of many kinds to a high state of efficiency, including electrical machines of all kinds. In fact, electricity, generated by our great waterfalls, is our only power. No scientist upon Osnome has ever had an inkling that intra-atomic energy exists. Nalboon cannot understand the power, but he solved the means of liberating it at a glance—and that glance sealed your death-warrants. With the Skylark, he could conquer Kondal, and to assure the downfall of my nation he would do anything.

"Also, he or any other Osnomian scientist would go to any lengths whatever—would challenge the great First Cause itself—to secure even one of those little bottles of the chemical you call 'salt.' It is far and away the scarcest and most precious substance in the world. It is so rare that those bottles you produced at the table held more than the total amount previously known to exist upon Osnome. We have great abundance of all the heavy metals, but the lighter metals are rare. Sodium and chlorin are the rarest of all known elements. Its immense value is due, not to its rarity, but to the fact that it is an indispensable component of the controlling instruments of our wireless power stations and that it is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of our hardest metals.

"For these reasons, you understand why Nalboon does not intend to let you escape and why he intends that this kokam (our equivalent of a day) shall be your last. About the second or third kam (hour) of the sleeping period he intends to break into the Skylark, learn its control, and secure the salt you undoubtedly have in the vessel. Then my party and myself will be thrown to the kolon. You and your party will be killed and your bodies smelted to recover the salt that is in them. This is the warning I had to give you. Its urgency explains the use of my untried mechanical educator; the hope that my party could escape with yours, in your vessel, explains why you saw me, the Kofedix of Kondal, prostrate myself before that arch-fiend Nalboon."

"How do you, a captive prince of another nation, know these things?" asked Crane, doubtfully.

"I read Nalboon's ideas from the brain of that officer whom the Karfedix Seaton killed. He was a ladex of the guards—an officer of about the same rank as one of your colonels. He was high in Nalboon's favor, and he was to have been in charge of the work of breaking into the Skylark and killing us all. Let me caution you now; do not let any Mardonalian touch our hands with a wire, for if you do, your thoughts will be recorded and the secrets of the Skylark and your many other mysterious things, such as smoking, matches, and magic feats, will be secrets no longer."

"Thanks for the information," responded Seaton, "but I want to correct your title for me. I'm no Karfedix—merely a plain citizen."

"In one way I see that that is true," replied the Kofedix with a puzzled look. "I cannot understand your government at all—but the inventor of the Skylark must certainly rank as a Karfedix."

As he spoke, a smile of understanding passed over his face and he continued:

"I see. Your title is Doctor of Philosophy, which must mean that you are the Karfedix of Knowledge of the Earth."

"No, no. You're way off. I'm...."

"Certainly Seaton is the Karfedix of Knowledge," broke in DuQuesne. "Let it go at that, anyway, whatever it means. The thing to do now is to figure a way out of this."

"You chirped it then, Blackie. Dunark, you know this country better than we do; what do you suggest?"

"I suggest that you take my party into the Skylark and escape from Mardonale as soon as possible. I can pilot you to Kondalek, the capital city of our nation. There, I can assure you, you will be welcomed as you deserve. My father, the Karfedix, will treat you as a Karfedix should be treated. As far as I am concerned, nothing I can ever do will lighten the burden of my indebtedness to you, but I promise you all the copper you want, and anything else you may desire that is within the power of man to give you."

Seaton thought deeply a moment, then shook Dunark's hand vigorously.

"That suits me, Kofedix," he said warmly. "I thought from the first that you were our friend. Shall we make for the Skylark right now, or wait a while?"

"We had better wait until after the second meal," the prince replied. "We have no armor, and no way of making any. We would be helpless against the bullets of any except a group small enough so that you could kill them all before they could fire. The kam after the second meal is devoted to strolling about the grounds, so that our visiting the Skylark would look perfectly natural. As the guard is very lax at that time, it is the best time for the attempt."

"But how about my killing his company of guards and blowing up one wing of his palace? Won't he have something to say about that?"

"I don't know," replied the Kofedix doubtfully. "It depends upon whether his fear of you or his anger is the greater. He should pay his call of state here in your apartment in a short time, as it is the inviolable rule of Osnome, that any visitor shall receive a call of state from one of his own rank before leaving his apartment for the first time. His actions may give you some idea as to his feelings, though he is an accomplished diplomat and may conceal his real feelings entirely. But let me caution you not to be modest or soft-spoken. He will mistake softness for fear."

"All right," grinned Seaton. "In that case I won't wait to try to find out what he thinks. If he shows any signs of hostility at all, I'll open up on him."

"Well," remarked Crane, calmly, "if we have some time to spare, we may as well wait comfortably instead of standing in the middle of the room. I, for one, have a lot of questions to ask about this new world."

Acting upon this suggestion, the party seated themselves upon comfortable divans, and Dunark rapidly dismantled the machine he had constructed. The captives remained standing, always behind the visitors until Seaton remonstrated.

"Please sit down, everybody. There's no need of keeping up this farce of your being slaves as long as we're alone, is there, Dunark?"

"No, but at the first sound of the gong announcing a visitor we must be in our places. Now that we are all comfortable and waiting, I will introduce my party to yours.

"Fellow Kondalians, greet the Karfedo Seaton and Crane," he began, his tongue fumbling over the strange names, "of a distant world, the Earth, and the two noble ladies, Miss Vaneman and Miss Spencer, soon to be their Karfediro.

"Guests from Earth, allow me to present to you the Kofedir Sitar, the only one of my wives who accompanied me upon our ill-fated hunting expedition."

Then, still ignoring DuQuesne as a captive, he introduced the other Kondolians in turn as his brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews—all members of the great ruling house of Kondal.

"Now," he concluded, "after I have a word with you in private, Doctor Seaton, I will be glad to give the others all the information in my power."

He led Seaton out of earshot of the others and said in a low voice:

"It is no part of Nalboon's plan to kill the two women. They are so beautiful, so different from our Osnomian women, that he intends to keep them—alive. Understand?"

"Yes," returned Seaton grimly, his eyes turning hard, "I get you all right—but what he'll do and what he thinks he'll do are two entirely different breeds of cats."

Returning to the others, they found Dorothy and Sitar deep in conversation.

"So a man has half a dozen or so wives?" Dorothy was asking in surprise. "How do you get along together? I'd fight like a wildcat if my husband tried to have other wives!"

"We get along splendidly, of course," returned the Osnomian princess in equal surprise. "I would not think of being a man's only wife. I wouldn't consider marrying a man who could win only one wife—think what a disgrace it would be! And think how lonely one would be while her husband is away at war—we would go insane if we did not have the company of the other wives. There are six of us, and we could not get along at all without each other."

"I've got a compliment for you and Peggy, Dottie," said Seaton. "Dunark here thinks that you two girls look good enough to eat—or words to that effect." Both girls flushed slightly, the purplish-black color suffusing their faces. They glanced at each other and Dorothy voiced the thought of both as she said:

"How can you, Kofedix Dunark? In this horrible light we both look perfectly dreadful. These other girls would be beautiful, if we were used to the colors, but we two look simply hideous."

"Oh, no," interrupted Sitar. "You have a wonderfully rich coloring. It is a shame to hide so much of yourselves with robes."

"Their eyes interpret colors differently than ours do," explained Seaton. "What to us are harsh and discordant colors are light and pleasing to their eyes. What looks like a kind of sloppy greenish black to us may—in fact, does—look a pale pink to them."

"Are Kondal and Mardonale the only two nations upon Osnome?" asked Crane.

"The only civilized nations, yes. Osnome is divided into two great and almost equal continents, separated by a wide ocean which encircles the globe. One is Kondal, the other Mardonale. Each nation has several nations or tribes of savages, which inhabit various waste places."

"You are the light race, Mardonale the dark," continued Crane. "What are the servants, who seem half-way between?"

"They are slaves...."

"Captured savages?" interrupted Dorothy.

"No. They are a separate race. They are a race so low in intelligence that they cannot exist except as slaves, but they can be trained to understand language and to do certain kinds of work. They are harmless and mild, making excellent servants, otherwise they would have perished ages ago. All menial work and most of the manual labor is done by the slave race. Formerly criminals were sterilized and reduced to unwilling slavery, but there have been no unwilling slaves in Kondal for hundreds of karkamo."

"Why? Are there no criminals any more?"

"No. With the invention of the thought recorder an absolutely fair trial was assured and the guilty were all convicted. They could not reproduce themselves, and as a natural result crime died out."

"That is," he added hastily, "what we regard as crime. Duelling, for instance, is a crime upon Earth; here it is a regular custom. In Kondal duels are rather rare and are held only when honor is involved, but here in Mardonale they are an every-day affair, as you saw when you landed."

"What makes the difference?" asked Dorothy curiously.

"As you know, with us every man is a soldier. In Kondal we train our youth in courage, valor, and high honor—in Mardonale they train them in savage blood-thirstiness alone. Each nation fixed its policy in bygone ages to produce the type of soldier it thought most efficient."

"I notice that everyone here wears those heavy collars," said Margaret. "What are they for?"

"They are identification marks. When a child is nearly grown, a collar bearing his name and the device of his house is cast about his neck. This collar is made of 'arenak,' a synthetic metal which, once formed, cannot be altered by any usual means. It cannot be scratched, cut, bent, broken, or worked in any way except at such a high temperature that death would result, if such heat were applied to the collar. Once the arenak collar is cast about a person's neck he is identified for life, and any adult Osnomian not wearing a collar is put to death."

"That must be an interesting metal," remarked Crane. "Is your belt a similar mark?"

"This belt is an idea of my own," and Dunark smiled broadly. "It looks like opaque arenak, but isn't. It is merely a pouch in which I carry anything I am particularly interested in. Even Nalboon thought it was arenak, so he didn't trouble to try to open it. If he had opened it and taken my tools and instruments, I couldn't have built the educator."

"Is that transparent armor arenak?"

"Yes, the only difference being that nothing is added to the matrix to color or make opaque the finished metal. It is in the preparation of this metal that salt is indispensable. It acts only as a catalyst, being recovered afterward, but neither nation has ever had enough salt to make all the armor they want."

"Aren't those monsters—karlono, I think you called them—covered by the same thing? And what are those animals, anyway?" Dorothy asked.

"Yes, they are armored with arenak, and it is thought that the beasts grow it, the same as fishes grow scales. The karlono are the most frightful scourge of Osnome. Very little is known of them, though every scientist has theorized upon them since time immemorial. It is very seldom that one is ever killed, as they easily outfly our swiftest battleships, and only fight when they can be victorious. To kill one requires a succession of the heaviest high-explosive shells in the same spot, a joint in the armor; and after the armor is once penetrated, the animal is blown into such small fragments that reconstruction is impossible. From such remains it has been variously described as a bird, a beast, a fish, and a vegetable; sexual, asexual, and hermaphroditic. Its habitat is unknown, it being variously supposed to live high in the air, deep in the ocean, and buried in the swamps. Another theory is that they live upon one of our satellites, which encounters our belt of atmosphere every karkam. Nothing is certainly known about the monsters except their terrible destructiveness and their insatiable appetites. One of them will devour five or six airships at one time, absorbing the crews and devouring the cargo and all of the vessels except the very hardest of the metal parts."

"Do they usually go in groups?" asked Crane. "If they do, I should think that a fleet of warships would be necessary for every party."

"No, they are almost always found alone. Only very rarely are two found together. This is the first time in history that more than two have ever been seen together. Two battleships can always defeat one karlon, so they are never attacked. With four battleships Nalboon considered his expedition perfectly safe, especially as they are now rare. The navies hunted down and killed what was supposed to be the last one upon Osnome more than a karkam ago, and none have been seen since, until we were attacked...."

The gong over the door sounded and the Kondalians leaped to their positions back of the Earthly visitors. The Kofedix went to the door. Nalboon brushed him aside and entered, escorted by a full company of heavily-armed soldiery. A scowl of anger was upon his face and he was plainly in an ugly mood.

"Stop, Nalboon of Mardonale!" thundered Seaton in the Mardonalian tongue and with the full power of his mighty voice. Dare you invade my privacy unannounced and without invitation?"

The escort shrank back, but the Domak stood his ground, although he was plainly taken aback. With an apparent effort he smoothed his face into lines of cordiality.

"I merely came to inquire why my guards are slain and my palace destroyed by my honored guest?"

"As for slaying your guards, they sought to invade my privacy. I warned them away, but one of them was foolish enough to try to kill me. Then the others attempted to raise their childish rifles against me, and I was obliged to destroy them. As for the wall, it happened to be in the way of the thought-waves I hurled against your guards—consequently it was demolished. An honored guest! Bah! Are honored guests put to the indignity of being touched by the filthy hands of a mere ladex?"

"You do not object to the touch of slaves!" with a wave of his hand toward the Kondalians.

"That is what slaves are for," coldly. "Is a Domak to wait upon himself in the court of Mardonale? But to return to the issue. Were I an honored guest this would never have happened. Know, Nalboon, that when you attempt to treat a visiting Domak of MY race as a low-born captive, you must be prepared to suffer the consequences of your rashness!"

"May I ask how you, so recently ignorant, know our language?"

"You question me? That is bold! Know that I, the Boss of the Road, show ignorance or knowledge, when and where I please. You may go."