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COMING OF THE GODS

By CHESTER WHITEHORN

Never had Mars seen such men as these, for they;
came from black space, carrying weird weapons
—to fight for a race of which they had never heard.

RO MOVED cautiously. He knew the jungles of Mars well, knew the dangers, the swift death that could come to an unwary traveler. Many times he had seen fellow Martians die by the razor fangs of Gin, the swamp snake. Their clear red skin had become blotched and purple, their eyeballs popped, their faces swollen by the poison that raced through their veins. And Ro had seen the bones of luckless men vomited from the mouths of the Droo, the cannibal plants. And others there had been, some friends of his, who had become game for beasts of prey, or been swallowed by hungry, sucking pools of quicksand. No, the jungles of Mars were not to be taken casually, no matter how light in heart one was at the prospect of seeing home once more.

Ro was returning from the north. He had seen the great villages of thatched huts, the strange people who lived in these huts instead of in caves, and wore coverings on their feet and shining rings in their ears. And having quenched his curiosity about these people and their villages, he was satisfied to travel home again.

He was a man of the world now, weary ef exploring and ready to settle down. He was anxious to see his family again, his father and mother and all his brothers and sisters; to sit round a fire with them at the entrance to their cave and tell of the wondrous places he'd visited. And, most of all, he wanted to see Na, graceful, dark eyed Na, whose fair face had disturbed his slumber so often, appearing in his dreams to call him home.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the jungle's edge. Before him lay a broad expanse of plain. And far in the distance rose the great cliffs and the hills that were his home.

His handsome face broadened into a smile and he quickened his pace to a trot. There was no need for caution now. The dangers on the plain were few.

The sun beat down on his bare head and back. His red skin glistened. His thick black hair shone healthily.

Mile after mile fell behind him. His long, well muscled legs carried him swiftly toward the distant hills. His movements were graceful, easy, as the loping of Shee, the great cat.

Then, suddenly, he faltered in his stride. He stopped running and, shielding his eyes from the sun's glare, stared ahead. There was a figure running toward him. And behind that first figure, a second gave chase.

For a long moment Ro studied the approaching creatures. Then he gasped in surprise. The pursued was a young woman, a woman he knew. Na! The pursuer was a squat, ugly rat man, one of the vicious Oan who lived in the cliffs.

Ro exclaimed his surprise, then his rage. His handsome face was grim as he searched the ground with his eyes. When he found what he sought—a round rock that would fit his palm—he stooped, and snatching up the missile, he ran forward.

At great speed, he closed the gap between him and the approaching figures. He could see the rat man plainly now—his fanged, frothy mouth; furry face and twitching tail. The Oan, however, was too intent on his prey to notice Ro at first, and when he did, it was too late. For the young Martian had let fly with the round stone he carried.

The Oan squealed in terror and tried to swerve from his course. The fear of one who sees approaching death was in his movements and his cry. He had seen many Oan die because of the strength and accuracy in the red men's arms.

Despite his frantic contortions, the stone caught him in the side. His ribs and backbone cracked under the blow. He was dead before he struck the ground.

With hardly a glance at his fallen foe, Ro ran on to meet the girl. She fell into his arms and pressed her cheek to his bare shoulder. Her dark eyes were wet with gladness. Warm tears ran down Ro's arm.

FINALLY Na lifted her beautiful head. She looked timidly at Ro, her face a mask of respect. The young Martian tried to be stem in meeting her gaze, as was the custom among the men of his tribe when dealing with women; but he smiled instead.

"You're home," breathed Na.

"I have traveled far to the north," answered Ro simply, "and seen many things. And now I have returned for you."

"They must have been great things you saw," Na coaxed.

"Yes, great and many. But that tale can wait. Tell me first how you came to be playing tag with the Oan."

Na lowered her eyes.

"I was caught in the forest below the cliffs. The Oan spied me and I ran. The chase was long and tiring. I was almost ready to drop when you appeared."

"You were alone in the woods!" Ro exclaimed. "Since when do the women of our tribe travel from the cliffs alone?"

"Since a long time," she answered sadly. Then she cried. And between sobs she spoke:

"Many weeks ago a great noise came out of the sky. We ran to the mouths of our caves and looked out, and saw a great sphere of shining metal landing in the valley below. Many colored fire spat from one end of it.

"The men of our tribe snatched up stones, and holding one in their hands and •ne beneath their armpits, they climbed down to battle or greet our visitors. They had surrounded the sphere and were waiting, when suddenly-an entrance appeared in the metal and two men stepped out.

"They were strange men indeed; white as the foam on water, and clothed in strange garb from the neck down, even to coverings on their feet. They made signs of peace—with one hand only, for they carried weapons of a sort in the other. And the men of our tribe made the same one-handed sign of peace, for they would not risk dropping their stones. Then the white men spoke; but their tongue was strange, and our men signaled that they could not understand. The white men smiled, and a great miracle took place. S...

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