Outside, we could hear the water splashing. Swimmers and boats scurrying off. Then comparative silence. The scream of a slaan woman in the grove nearby, still desiring vengeance; the groans of the dying at our feet; the hiss and splutter of weapons discarded, with circuits still connected. And over it all, the great whine of a danger whistle, which some distant official had plugged.... A lull.
And the slaan in the water who said he did not blame us. He had warned us to guard ourselves. But how? There were no weapons. On this night of pleasure nothing would have been more incongruous. And that metal cap in the water with a man's face behind it? An Earth man of my own race! What did it mean? I was perturbed frightened. But I did not demur when Tarrano led us to his flower-bedecked barge.
Just after sundown, when I chanced to be in a small boat alone, near the palace, the first of two significant incidents occurred. From the shadows beneath a house, the head of a swimming man emerged. A slaan, and he gripped the sides of my boat as I drifted. "Wait, Earth man." He spoke in the quaint universal language, which I understood, though imperfectly. I gazed at him.
The soft light from it flooded the water and the tombs with a flush of red and purple. As we lay there against the bank, with that silent throng breathlessly watching, from down the river came the last vessel of our cortege. It made a scene I shall never forget. The bier. Draped in purple. A single, half-naked slaan propelling it with a sweep from its stern.
"We must get away back to the palace!" Georg exclaimed as I joined them. The Earth men on the main floor were holding the slaans partially in check. Bodies were lying in a welter I shall not describe it. Then abruptly, upon a table a huge slaan leaped his garments blood-stained from his victims, a blade of dripping steel in his hands.
Amid all this laughter and music pleasure of the senses reigning supreme here in the Great City tonight I could not miss a sense of impending evil. The slaans propelling the boats were stolid and grim. Not for them, this dalliance. Not for their women, this music and laughter, these daring costumes to display their beauty. The slaan women, drab with work, were slinking about unnoticed.
There were in our instrument vehicle, Maida, Georg, Elza and myself, the vehicle manned by two pilots and two mechanicians a slaan, a Mars man, and two Earth men. We were in constant communication with Geno-Rhaalton. And though he enjoined upon us all the necessity for sleeping or resting during the trip, himself sat alert at his desk, unrelaxing.
A dozen, perhaps, of such incidents, which now, that I was alert to understand, were apparent. The mirrors might have shown some of them but the mirrors always went dark just in time. Tarrano's guards were disappearing. And now I saw a slaan skulking in the shadows of the shrubbery nearby.