Flash Gordon 2 - The Plague of Sound (9 page)

BOOK: Flash Gordon 2 - The Plague of Sound
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“Pan is always recruiting said Jillian, who’d been talking with some of the other freed slaves.

The other five men were standing in a half circle on the jungle trail. Now one of the tall ones said, “I think I’d simply like to head for my own territory now. How about you, Lando?”

Lando, the other tall one, said, “Well, I don’t know, Marc. If these people hadn’t saved us by taking those helmets off, we’d still be slaves. Maybe we ought to join this rebel army the young lady’s been telling us about.”

“You can join,” said Marc. “As for me, my wife and three youngest kids are back home. That’s where I’m going.”

“We won’t stop you,” Sawtel said. “Anyone who wishes to join us can; those who don’t may go. We aren’t like Pan. We want only volunteers.”

“Well, then,” persisted Marc, “I’m leaving for home.” He slapped his rifle. “Nobody’s going to recruit me again.”

“Before you go,” Flash said to him, “I’d like your clothes.”

“Huh?”

“Flash wants to get inside Perfect City” said Tad. “He needs a disguise.”

Flip shook his head at Flash. “I played a year there, man, and you ain’t missing nothing.”

“I’ll trade outfits with you,” Flash said to the tall man. “Were about the same size.”

Marc eyed him, then said, “Sure, why not? The sooner I get out of this slave tunic, the better.”

“Yeah, and this flash cat’s got hisself some fine and mellow threads,” observed Flip.

While Flash and Marc moved off the trail to exchange clothes, Jillian turned to the black man. “I don’t quite understand why you . . . why you weren’t yourself.”

“See, chick, I’m a mimic,” said Flip. “Don’t ask me how come, cause I don’t right know. But ever since I was a kid, I been able to change my shape, change my looks. I pretty soon found out I could use the knack to earn me some bread, you know. Where I grew up, you learn that bread is your only friend. So ever since then, I been gigging around the universe. You dig what I’m laying down so far, chick?”

“So far.”

“Okay, so my last gig before doing a year or so at PC was on a touring aircruiser. So dig, I am doing my schtick, impersonating some cat, when we happen to pass over this jungle. And wham, blam, we get sucked right down into Perfect City. I am so scared that before I can think to switch back to my own natural self, these dudes slap one of those slave beanies on my head.” He shrugged. “That’s how come I been trucking around as a fat green cat all this time. I like my own self better.”

“What next?” Jillian wanted to know.

“Oh, I’m going to stick with you dudes, baby,” said Flip. “A cat with my talent, you going to need me.”

“Just what I was thinking,” said Flash as he stepped back onto the trail dressed in the slave tunic.

CHAPTER
22

T
he platinum-haired girl crossed her trousered legs, looking out at the long afternoon shadows which cut stripes across the artificial lagoon and the artificial pirate barge. “He’s taking long enough,” she said. A stun rifle rested across her knee.

“You know how brainy people are, lots of things on their minds, never punctual.” A small yellow man was standing in among a group of frozen waiters, watching the entry gate of Paradise Park.

The two of them were inside a restaurant in the defunct park. Five waiter androids in white suits, each one looking convincingly human, were grouped near the entrance of the kitchen. They’d been turned off and left there when the park closed. All had a patina of dust, and the headwaiter had a nest of tiny red spiders in his mustache.

“He may not take the bait,” said Glenna. “Maybe he knows where the girl really is, Hasp.”

The yellow man said, “He doesn’t know. She never told him. She’s mad because he didn’t rush off to Mazda after her missing boyfriend.”

“He’s taking a long time to get there.”

On the far side of the lagoon the android simulacra of Dale Arden was pacing anxiously, turning her head again and again to look at the unlocked nearwood gate in the high wall around Paradise Park.

“They sure did a good job on that one,” observed Hasp. “I’d like to meet the real thing, even if she is a brainy type.”

“You couldn’t even make an impression on that nuts and bolts version,” Glenna said.

“You’re too brainy, too, Glenna. You spend altogether too much time thinking.”

A hooting commenced high above them.

Hasp hesitated, then went to the open doorway of the mechanical restaurant. “Now who the hell is that?”

“What is that?” Glenna, stun rifle in hand, came over to look up at the afternoon sky.

“Airtruck,” said Hasp, pointing. “What’s it say on the bottom of the thing? ‘Mott’s Electronics.’ We’re not expecting a delivery, are we?”

“Of course not. There isn’t even anyone in the workshops to handle it.”

The big flying truck was setting down beside the lagoon. It honked again.

“That couldn’t be Zarkov, could it?” asked Hasp. “Trying some brainy trick.”

“It doesn’t look like him, does it?”

The burly driver was a clean-shaven man with shaggy blond hair. He realized the two people were watching him and waved in their direction, shouting something.

“Go get rid of him,” Glenna ordered.

The Dale Arden android had stopped pacing.

“You’re better at getting rid of people, Glenna,” said the yellow man, holding back.

“Honestly, Hasp.” She walked out of the restaurant and straight toward the truck. “Yes, what do you want?”

The big driver waved once again. He shoved open his door and jumped to the ground. “Got this load of gudgeon pins for you people. Where do you want it?”

“There’s some mistake.” Glenna stopped a few feet from the man. “We’re expecting no deliveries.”

“Huh, that’s funny now.” The blond man reached back into the cab of his truck for a small stack of papers. “This is Paradise Park, isn’t it?“

“Obviously” answered the platinum-haired girl. “But we didn’t order anything.”

“Well, then maybe I better talk to . . .” He squinted at the blue sheet on the top of the pile. “Mr. Reisberson, I guess.”

“We have no Mr. Reisberson here.”

“Could be this doesn’t say Reisberson,” admitted the driver. “Our office robots got a lousy handwriting. Here, Miss, see if you can make it out.”

“All right.” She stepped up close to him. “Where?”

“Keep looking at the paper,” said Zarkov. “This is a blaster pistol you feel nudging your side. Get your pal over here right away.”

“You’re Zarkov?”

“I shaved off my beard,” he told her. “At certain times sacrifices are necessary. Now get him over here.”

Glenna beckoned at the yellow man. “Hasp, come over here quickly.”

CHAPTER
23

F
lip adjusted his gait until he was in step with Flash. “Who you want me to be, man?”

“That’s what I want you to tell me,” answered Flash.

The impersonator was watching a silver monkey go scampering through the twilight branches. “Am I digging you, Flash, baby?” Then he snapped his fingers. “Hey, I read you. You mean you want me to impersonate one of these cats in PC. I’m hep, but which one?”

“I want to get a look at any labs or workshops Pan’s got,” said Flash. “And there has to be someplace where he’s got the equipment he’s using against Estampa.”

“You’re sure he’s the dude who’s jumping bad with Estampa, daddy?”

“From what I’ve heard about him so far, Pan seems to be a pretty likely candidate.”

Frowning, Flip trekked along the trail in silence for a moment or two. “Like I said, man, when you got one of them slave lids on you ain’t too sharp about what’s happening round you. There’s one section of PC, though, where none of us slave cats was allowed. The cat who ran that was a big green dude who always wore a smock, a white smock. He didn’t have no helmet, ’cause I recollect he had a shiny bald noggin. Yeah, he was the chief technician or something like that.”

“Can you impersonate him?”

“No sweat, daddy,” Flip assured him. “I can do everything but that white smock. Like I say, don’t ask me how I do it, ’cause I ain’t got the foggiest. My old mom always told me I must be a mutant of some land, but I think she said that mostly to put my daddy down, you know. Anyways, man, I’ll be your chief technician.”

“Still, if they don’t allow slaves in that area, I’ll be kept out myself,” said Flash.

“They didn’t let us regular cats in,” said Flip. “But there was a crew of workers, sort of an elite corps, maybe. Cats who probably had some kind of technical background before Pan caught them. I could get you in that way, as a new lab flunky.”

“Okay, fine. We’ll try that.”

“Flash!” It was Tad. He came running back along the trail from his position up ahead. “We’re getting close to the Perfect City and I’m picking up something.”

Flash slowed. “What?”

“They’ve captured another airship,” said the lanky young man. “It was from the capital of Estampa.”

Flash placed a hand on the boy’s arm. “Who was in it, can you find out?”

“A girl,” replied Tad. “You know her, Dale Arden.”

“Damn. What was she doing out here?”

“Looking for you.”

“Zarkov wouldn’t send her out here alone.”

“She did this on her own,” said Tad. “She felt far as I can make out from reading her thoughts at this distance, that Dr. Zarkov should have come hunting for you right away. When he didn’t she rented this aircruiser and came looking for you herself.”

“Yes, that’s Dale all right.” Flash stopped completely. “Where is she in the city?”

“They’ve taken her to Pan,” the boy said.

“This changes our plans,” said Flash.

Dale didn’t see him at first.

Then the enormous pipe organ far across the room began to play.

The girl hugged herself. The music was strange and unsettling.

The large-clad figure at the keyboards played for another full minute before ceasing and turning to stare at Dale. “Welcome to Perfect City,” he said. “I am called Pan.” He left the organ bench to move silently across the ivory-white carpeting. “Did you enjoy my playing?”

“Enjoy is not quite the right word.”

“You don’t look like a fool, Dale Arden. I hoped you might understand what I’m doing in my music.”

“I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily enjoy it,” the girl said. “Is that why your people brought me here—to be an audience?”

“I don’t enjoy flippancy in anyone, most especially in women,” said Pan as he drew nearer. “Though perhaps Flash Gordon has different tastes.”

“Is . . . do you have Flash here?”

Pan laughed. “Not yet. He should soon be here, however. My slave patrols are scouring the jungle for him,” he told her. “I do, though, have the ship Dr. Zarkov put together for him.”

“You seem to know all about us.”

“My dear, you’re universally famous,” laughed Pan. “Besides I have people in Estampa who are loyal to me. I have no difficulty in learning whatever I want to know about the capital.”

“Are you the one responsible for the plague of sound?”

“Of course, my dear.”

“Why?”

“For the good and sufficient reason that I wish to rule not merely this city, but the entire planet,” he said. “Now I have Perfect City, but eventually I will rule a Perfect Territory and someday a Perfect Planet.”

“Tomorrow the world,” murmured Dale.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing. Something I heard in a history class on Earth once,” the girl said. “So you don’t intend to go on destroying Estampa?”

“If I destroyed it all, there’d be nothing left to rule. No, as a matter of fact, you’ve arrived at a most auspicious time, Dale Arden. Tomorrow I deliver my first message to Estampa. They must either surrender or continue to suffer.”

The girl turned away from him. “Why did you pick Estampa as your first victim?”

“Perhaps because it’s the most democratic territory on this planet,” answered Pan. “Or perhaps it’s only because I was born and raised there. It was there they laughed at me, at my music, and at my ideas.”

“Is the idea for Perfect City yours?”

Pan said, “Basically, yes. I had some technical help in working out the details. Not only, you see, did the fools in Estampa not understand me, they didn’t even realize how horrible the grating vibrations of their machines were, the discordant blare of what they call civilized urban life. All the ticking, whirring, honking, hooting, clanging, banging, roaring, clattering of their cities. It’s a wonder it doesn’t drive them all mad.”

“Apparently it did in at least one case.”

Laughing once more, Pan said, “No, my dear, I am not mad. I am one of the sanest people you will ever meet.” He gestured at the high oval windows. “What I have caused to be built here is a city of harmony. A quiet and peaceful place in which to live and create. It takes a good deal of sane and rational thinking to accomplish what I’ve accomplished so far.”

“The people who live here,” Dale said, “they don’t do it voluntarily, do they?”

“Children and fools. Most people are, you’ll find, no wiser than children and fools. They don’t know themselves at all, have no notion of what’s good for them. So an idea like Perfect City must be imposed on them until they learn it is the best possible way to live. In harmony, in quiet and tranquility.”

“They walk around as though they’re in a trance. How do you manage that?”

“I invented, with a small amount of technical help, a helmet which controls them by playing a continuous and specific vibration,” he explained. “Someday, I assure you, there will be no need for the helmets at all. They are only a temporary measure until these fools come to realize what’s good for them.”

“I see.”

“Now, my dear,” said Pan as he walked back toward the pipe organ, “I think you had better tell me exactly what you and Flash Gordon and Dr. Zarkov are up to. What’s been found out about me, what steps Zarkov intends to take against me.”

“Suppose I refuse to tell you anything?”

“Oh, you’ll tell me all I want to know.” From the bench he picked up a slave helmet “One way or another, my dear, you’ll tell me.”

CHAPTER
24

Z
arkov grunted. He reached up to tug at his beard, then remembered he didn’t have a beard any more. “Who are you working for?”

BOOK: Flash Gordon 2 - The Plague of Sound
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