Authors: Alex Raymond
“Coming right up, mate,” said the chubby green bartender. He took a plastic pouch from a shelf behind him, pulled a tab, and let its contents fall into a vinyl mug. In a few seconds, the grog began to steam. “Here you go, mate. One buck.”
The doctor slapped a coin down and grabbed up the mug.
He turned to watch the crowd of some forty men in the smoky saloon. The cod fisherman was doing pretty well against the three angry whalers. He’d broken the arm of the largest one and was kicking the middle-sized whaler in the kneecap.
Dr. Zarkov had been on the trail of the man who’d piloted Flash’s aircar on the night of the Minnig killing. The man was no longer at the address given to the rental agency. In fact, he’d probably never lived there. But by nosing around, Zarkov had found out who the man might be, what his real name was, and why he’d used that particular address. The trail had led Zarkov on a circuitous course through the capital of Estampa.
Clacking his empty cup down on the bartop, Zarkov said, “Let’s have another dose of that swill.”
“Right you are, mate.”
As he paid for the second grog, Zarkov casually asked, “Has Rizber been in tonight?”
The bartender patted the metal dollar with a fat green hand and raked it off the bartop into his other hand. “Rizber?” he said. “I don’t believe so. Seems to me, mate, I heard that he was feeling low.”
“Sorry to hear that. I’ve got that fifty bucks I owe him. Had some luck in a game of whist.”
“Half a minute, mate, and I’ll see what I can find out.” The green man moved down to the far end of the bar, where a half-dozen men in yellow slicker cloaks were gathered.
The cod fisherman had taken care of the second whaler. Now he and the one survivor were slugging it out.
“Yes, mate, Rizber s got a touch of the grippe,” the returning bartender informed Dr. Zarkov.
“A shame. I’d like to pay him back, and I’m shipping out tomorrow.”
“You can leave the fifty smackers with me, mate. The bar of the Blue Whale is as safe as any bank, which anyone along the oceanfront will testify.”
“Can’t do that, thanks all the same,” said Zarkov. “Where’s Rizber laid up? Where’s his lodgings?”
“Hold on a moment, mate, and I’ll inquire.” The bartender went again to the other end of the bar.
The cod fisherman picked up the last of the whalers, and tossed him onto a table around which four midshipmen were playing whist.
“Here’s his address, mate.” The green man handed Zarkov a greasy slip of wrapping paper. “Give my best to Rizber. Tell the lad we all miss him around the Blue Whale.”
“That I will.”
The four midshipmen jumped up and went for the cod fisherman.
Zarkov left the place, stepping out into the swirling fog.
According to the splotched piece of paper, Rizber had a room in a house a few blocks from the Blue Whale. Taking huge steps, Zarkov arrived at the dreary nearwood house in less than five minutes.
There was only one light burning in the low sway-back house. That was at the rear. Peering into the fog, the doctor determined he could get to the back room by walking along a narrow wooden catwalk which hung out over the black foggy ocean.
Quietly, he started along the catwalk. As he neared the yellow window, he slowed, ducking down. He took a quick look into the room.
There was a sick man in there sure enough. He looked the way the elusive aircar pilot was supposed to look. He was lying on his back on a floating cot.
Zarkov rose up, kicked out the windowpanes with one big booted foot, and stepped over the sill into the room. “I want to talk to you, Rizber,” he bellowed.
The man sat up in bed. “Dr. Zarkov, isn’t it?”
“Damn right it is.”
“Good,” said the man. “I’ve been waiting for you.” He pressed his fingertips against his opposite wrist.
An odd whirring sound came from inside the sick man. Then he exploded with terrific force.
e wont be able to stay here long,” said the red-haired girl. “But for tonight it’s safe.”
“Safe from what?” asked Flash. He and the girl were at the entrance of a cave. Twilight was coming on, darkening everything in this rocky stretch of jungle forest. They had traveled roughly five miles from the place where the girl had saved his life.
“The slaves for one thing,” she answered. Turning to him, she said, “Before you meet the others, I ought to know your name.”
“I’m Flash Gordon,” he answered. “Perhaps you ought to tell me who you are, too.”
“I’ve heard your name before,” said the girl. “I would have thought a man of your reputation could handle himself better in the jungle. Letting a lumbering old spider entrap you! My name is Jillian.”
“That’s all,” she said. “Jillian.”
“He’d like to know more about what we’re up to,” said a lanky young man who now appeared from the shadowy interior of the cave. He had silver hair and was dressed in a rough tunic and leggings. “He’s wondering if he can completely trust you.”
“And is he really Flash Gordon?” Jillian asked the long thin young man.
“He is,” he said. “He’s puzzled, as to how I know what he’s thinking.”
“Tad reads your mind,” explained Jillian.
“A valuable knack,” said Flash.
“There are a few of us on Pandor,” Tad said. “And most are slaves. In answer to the questions you’re about to ask, Flash, we’ll let Sawtel explain things to you. Come in. We were going to eat our evening meal a half hour ago, but I sensed Jillian was returning with company so we waited.”
Ducking, Flash followed the two of them into the cave. A low rocky tunnel sloped downward for about fifty feet, then widened into a large cavern. A portable stove glowed in the center of the rock room, a single floating globe produced dim orange light.
A tall old man with a white beard sat next to the stove. He stood as Flash approached. “Tad assures me you are to be trusted,” he said, holding out his gnarled hand. “I am Sawtel.”
“He tells me you’re all to be trusted, too,” said Flash. “Maybe you can tell me what’s going on out here in the jungles of Mazda.”
Squatting down on the stone floor, the old man said, “We’re building an army.”
“Do you have more than three soldiers?” said Flash, sitting near him.
“We have over a hundred so far,” answered Jillian, still standing near the end of the tunnel. “We recruit new people nearly every day.”
Sawtel sighed. “It is a long, difficult process.”
Tad bent over to poke at the birds which were being cooked on the portable stove. “Flash would like to know the purpose of our army.”
“That is simple,” said Sawtel. “We are going to destroy Perfect City. There must be no more slaves.”
“I came out here,” said Flash, “searching for the cause of a series of disasters that have been plaguing the capital of Estampa Territory. Disasters caused by someone who is able to use sound and music to cause severe destruction.”
“That would be Pan,” said old Sawtel.
Jillian moved closer to the three men. “Pan is growing more ambitious then,” she said. “It’s what we’ve been afraid of, Sawtel.”
Nodding, the old man said, “It is as I suspected when I fled Perfect City. He will not stop until everyone on this planet is a slave.”
“Flash wonders what you were doing in Perfect City,” said Tad, reading Flash’s mind once more.
“I helped him build it,” answered the old man.
trong hands took hold of his shoulders and pulled him out of the black water. Dr. Zarkov sputtered as he was dragged across a strip of rocky beach. Blowing out salty water, shaking his dripping head, he said, “I didn’t expect an explosion.”
Inspector Carr thrust a hand under Zarkov’s soggy elbow, helped him to his feet. “You’ve got a nasty cut over your right eye, but I don’t see any other outward signs of damage. How do you feel?”
The doctor swung his arms back and forth to shed some water. He grimaced, then grasped his beard in both hands and wrung it out. “I may have a couple of cracked ribs.”
Nodding at a police ship which was hovering nearby, Carr said, “One of my men can run you over to the nearest Emergency Center.”
“I know how to fix a broken rib,” boomed Zarkov. “I don’t need a pack of limp-wristed medirobots poking at me.” He looked up at the place where the house had been. A few tiny flames still crackled on what was left of the floor. The walls and the roof were gone.
“Apparently, the explosion blew you clean out of the place and into the sea,” said Inspector Carr. “Lucky thing, or you might well have burned up before you regained consciousness.”
“Anything left of Rizber?”
“The fellow in the house,” said Zarkov.
“My men found nothing to indicate anyone else was in there,” said the inspector, frowning. “Nothing at all, which is odd.”
“I’ll take a look around up there.”
“Are you certain you’re up to it?”
“I’m up to it.” Zarkov went crunching along the narrow beach until he came to a wooden ladder leading up to the street. He winced twice as he climbed.
Following him, Inspector Carr asked, “Might I inquire, by the way, what you were doing down here?”
“Checking out a lead.” Zarkov began working his way out on what was left of the wooden catwalk.
“A lead, eh? Anything to do with the source of our plague of sound?”
“No, with the killer of Minister Minnig.”
“I know some scientific fellows are independent spirits,” said Carr as he went cautiously after Zarkov. “But if you have some information which might help us you should turn it over to us.”
“Right now I don’t have anything,” said Zarkov. “A few minutes ago, I had the man who piloted Flash Gordon’s aircar on the night of the murder.”
“Gordon arrived on foot, according to our reports.”
“Not that Flash Gordon,” bellowed Zarkov, “the
“Oh? There’s more than one?”
“By now that should be obvious even to your tin dogs.” Zarkov dropped to his hands and knees and began edging along the catwalk toward the floor of the exploded house. He took a flashlight out of his pocket, flicked it on.
The inspector stood and watched as Dr. Zarkov went slowly and carefully over the floor. “My people will make a thorough check of this whole place, you know.”
Zarkov made a snorting noise and went on exploring.
“You have any notion of what sort of bomb it was? We haven’t found any fragments of it yet,” said Inspector Carr. “I’d say it was somewhere in the right hand side of the bedroom there, under the bed perhaps.”
“Inside Rizber,” said Zarkov over his shoulder.
“The bomb was inside the man I came to see.” With his broad nose just a few inches from the blackened boards of the floor, Dr. Zarkov moved his fingertips across the wood.
“Implanted in the fellow somehow?”
The doctor rose up to a kneeling position, hands resting on his hips. “What bothers me is there’s absolutely no sign that a human being was blown up in this room.”
“Perhaps my people will find some trace with their equipment.”
“They won’t find anything Zarkov didn’t find.”
“Surely, Doctor, working in the dark with only a hand light, and after you yourself have just been blown into the ocean . . .”
“I was the only flesh and blood creature in this room tonight,” said Zarkov.
“What was the other fellow then?”
“You mean a robot or an android?”
Zarkov nodded vigorously, water splashing from his beard and hair. “An andy, yes.”
“Well, if that’s so, Dr. Zarkov, were sure to find some traces.”
Zarkov stood completely up and came back to the inspector’s side. “Nope,” he said. “This particular android was designed to destruct completely and leave no trace.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means somebody is willing to go to a hell of a lot of trouble to get rid of me,” answered Zarkov.
ay began with sunlight bursting through the jungle.
Flash was already awake and sitting outside the entrance of the cave.
“What do you figure to do now?”
He turned, grinned at Jillian. “You don’t have to ask; just have Tad read my thoughts.”
The tall girl came out into the morning. “He likes you,” she said. “So he’s respecting your privacy.”
“I want to get a look at the Perfect City,” Flash told the girl. “I have to find out if this Pan guy is the man behind what’s happening in Estampa.”
“I’m really afraid he is.” Jillian sat beside him on the grass. “All Sawtel told you last night is true. Pan is . . . well, I guess crazy is the word.”
“You think, though, he’s not simply out to destroy Estampa?”
“No, if Pan’s doing this he’s doing it to gain more power,” replied the girl. “Soon now he’ll probably issue an ultimatum. Turn over Estampa Territory to me or I’ll destroy it all. Something like that. Then, after he conquers Estampa, he’ll move on to another territory.”
“According to Sawtel, Pan once lived in Estampa. Maybe he is only out for revenge.”
Jillian shook her head, her long red hair sweeping from side to side. “No, Pan is out for a lot more than that.”
“How many people live in his Perfect City?”
“We calculate there must be at least two thousand slaves, possibly ten to fifteen others who don’t wear the helmets. They’d be his inner circle, people he trusts to some extent.”
“And the whole setup is underground?”
“Yes. As Sawtel explained, when he and Pan first came up with the idea, the Perfect City was going to be some kind of a retreat. It was to be an oasis with none of the distractions and noises of your average urban area, a place where people could come and live a quiet life. Artists, musicians—creative people especially.”
“How did they finance it?”
“Pan had family money, a whole lot of it,” Jillian said. “Sawtel had done extremely well as an industrial technician. He put in a good chunk of his own money. And he never realized what Pan was really aiming at, not until it was already happening.”
“Who invented the helmets?”