Chapter 3 – Callisto’s Children by Arthur J. Burks
2224269Cosmos — Chapter 3 – Callisto’s ChildrenArthur J. Burks

Chapter 3 – Callisto’s Children by Arthur J. Burks

(September, 1933 issue)


Across the sky of Callisto flashed a brilliant light. It might have been taken for a meteorite. But it did not seem to diminish and fade away when it struck Callisto’s atmosphere. There was something different ‘otherworldly’ about it; even more than had it been the meteorite it at first seemed to be. Probably the race of Callistonians sensed, even when the brilliant orange light shading into dark blue was first seen, that here was something cataclysmic, something portentous.

In the deep mountains of the land, in the heart of a forest glade where he lived practically alone, Parcele, the Father, stared at the heavens and marked the passage of the light across the heavens. His black eyes were deeper than space and in them was mirrored all wisdom and experience. His nine hundred years of life rested lightly on his shoulders. He was dressed in a tunic of blue with white borders. He did not know, of course, how closely his garments resembled the togas of a race which once inhabited a planet he knew only as a spot in the immensity of space. All he knew was Callisto and her children.

And something, even then, warned that the brilliant light brought catastrophe to those children.

He stiffened as the sound came down the gentle wind from beyond the crest of the mountains. It was a sound somewhere between a wail and a lost chord of music; a sound with an oddly measured sequence. There was an urgency about it, as though it were a summons. It came from behind the ramparts of the blue mountains where the brilliant light had dropped. He listened to the spacing of the sounds, to the rise and fall of them. In ordinary times the sound would have been music to tug at his heart-strings. It was that now, too, but the urgency gave it another meaning, almost a plea for help. And it wasn’t often that the children of Callisto came to Parcele for help. He smiled a little. With a proud fling of his leonine hear he tossed back from his eyes the mass of tumbles black hair which gave to his person as aspect of wildness – almost as though he were a hunted creature. His eyes glowed. His deeply red lips moved.

“It must be important, since they send for Parlece!”

No sound, actually came from his lips, though they moved. Had there been sounds only an intelligent being of another planet would have understood them – and then only if that being possessed the ability to read the thoughts of other beings. For it was a form of thought transference – swift and intangible as lightning. Although he was alone his lips moved from force of habit.

Quickly he broke from cover, girding strange weapons about his as he ran. He ran with the grace and speed of a gazelle. In appearance his weapons were two pronged sticks; each stick having six prongs that branched out from the main staff. That there were two of these sticks seemed natural, since he had two hands. The sticks were perhaps a foot in length, each of the prongs about six inches. The sticks were dead black in color. Parcele handled them with extreme care, making sure that the prongs never pointed at his own body. They were carried in his belt in such a fashion that no matter how long his strides might be, the prongs pointed at a spot some distance ahead of his forward-flung feet. That the sticks were weapons of vast danger was proved by the care he lavished in their handling.

With them he harnessed the lightning and used it as a weapon. Behind the dark grip – made of some substance resembling rubber and of the same content of elements – was a metal knob which appeared to be of gold, ending in a sharp point. The back of each stick could therefore be used as a mace with deadly effect.

Parcele vanished into the forest. He came to the hillside but did not slacken his pace – seemed even to increase it, as thought gravity’s pull had no effect on him whatever. He reached the crest and paused for a brief moment to stare out across a broad plain which reached to the very rim of Callisto. There were many lights on the plain and Parcele smiled softly.

“The children gather,” he said, “and their gathering, perhaps, means death to Parcele. Too bad, for them, that they do not know the secrets I have discovered and made my own.”

He hurried down. It could be seen then that the lights, in vast concourse, came into the plain from all directions as though they moved to some strange rendezvous. And sounds came to the white ears of Parcele, hidden under that raven black hair. There were sounds as of lamentation – and in among the sounds were indications that there were some of the ‘children’ who made them who experienced sensations of exultation. Again the smile broke the classic features of Parcele.

“They think to discover, in some fashion, a replacement for the father in the light from the sky!”

Parlece had read in the summons, calling the children together, the coded words:

“Let the Father also come at once!”

It had been a command. Parcele now approached the first of the beings who bore the lights. His bearing became more stern, more unyielding. He walked like a soldier sure of himself. His eyes held little lights of danger. There were fierce in their determination.

He behaved like one who would be master in any situation. And then strange eyes were turned upon him – the eyes of the ‘children.’ A strange unearthly fact became instantly apparent: the children were all females! From mountains, from villages Parcele had never seen, from all the many fastnesses, they came to the rendezvous upon the plain. They were as many as the sands upon the shores of an inland sea. They were bigger even than Parlece – and all of entrancing beauty. There were roses in their cheeks, visible even in the subdued light of Callisto’s midnight. Their hair was as black as Parlece’s own. They wore tunics much like his – and there were many children among them – and all the children were females!

Parlece smiled as the ‘children’ smiled at him. There was seduction, beseeching perhaps – and danger certainly – in their smiles. For there was one thing the Callistonians shared with certain species of the insect family – for six generations they reproduced without the necessity of male companionship! Once, thousands of years ago, there had been a male for every female. Then, by experimentation, they had sought to remove one sex or the other in an attempt to do away with the conflict of sex. Women had, by sheer force of will, been able, down the ages, to overthrow the men in the strangest warfare ever waged in the Universe. By experimenting they had almost been able to make the male entirely unnecessary. But always there was the bugaboo of the seventh generation, when males were necessary. The comparatively few males on Callisto, who were carefully kept apart from one another, were then in vast demand. Then did the ‘children’ woo them with all their arts, even with the sword if need arose. At other times, when there was no need for the males, they were driven away as though they had been unclean. Each time the ‘children’ seemed to forget that the time must inevitably some when they would again have need of the males, or human life on Callisto would come to an end. The periodic casting forth was the protest of the ‘children’ against Nature’s edict regarding the seventh generation. Some of the males were slain in the casting forth… and so the males diminished because for two hundred years none had been born on Callisto. It had become a race between the rapidly diminishing males, and the discovery, deemed inevitable by male and female alike, of the secret which would free Callisto of the bugaboo of the seventh generation.

But why the call now since Callisto would not need its males until twenty years hence unless they believed the light a discovery?

And so Parlece marched in among the women of Callisto, gorgeous creatures whose angelic faces did not hide from Parlece the innate danger he braved in appearing among them – for to the very least of them they resented the necessity of men.

“What is the reason of the rendezvous?” asked Parlece of one of the women.

“What right has an outcast male to question?” case the answer from the woman in a voice as cold and hard as agate, though her red lips smiled and her eyes were warm upon him – almost as though she gloated over him. Parlece stiffened. Almost he would have turned his weapon upon her. In a matter of seconds he could have blasted vast gaps in the concourse of the children. But they did not know this secret he had discovered. He would not use it unless forced to do so. In a way the summons which had brought him hither had been a granting of personal immunity.

“They have need of me,” said Parlece coldly, “else they would not have summoned me.”

“And why do you come?” there was a veiled threat in the question.

“Always,” said Parlece boldly, “there is the hope among the males that a way may be found out of our bondage!”

“That is treason,” said the woman angrily.

“For which I shall not be punished,” said Parlece, “because no way has yet been found to sacrifice the males entirely – and survive! I shall remember you. If the time should come when there is need of me –“

The woman shrugged derisively.

“That need shall never be mine. I am but the first generation.”

Parlece moved on among the women. As streams flow into lakes, increasing their size until they become vast seas, so the streams of women moved in the center of the plain, until it became a sea of ravishing beautiful humanity. The lights they carried, in conical receptacles on their wrists, cast a weird glow over the gathering. In its center were three women of Amazonian proportions – great, gorgeous, breath-taking creatures whose lines were as perfect as though they had been chiseled from white marble by the hands of master sculptors.

They were Cala, Hanse and Purna, the triumvirate which ruled the three United Kingdoms of Callisto, each equal in power. Their faces were calm, of marvelous beauty; but Parlece shuddered. Those three were capable of devastating a whole nation to work their will. They were the supreme masters of Callisto.

Now the gaze of Cala fell on Parlece.

The eyes of the woman did not change as she spoke in a sort of voiceless, unaccented manner of speech, which left more unsaid than it actually spoke. It was what the words indicated, rather than what she said, that was important, because what she desired came forth in forms of thought understandable to all.

“Stand closer, Parlece,” she said. “And see this thing which has come to us out of the sky.”

Parlece gasped as his eyes fell on the cylinder, and he moved forward, forgetting that he exposed his back to attack as he did so. Twice the length and twice the thickness of the biggest of Callisto’s children was the cylinder which had come to Callisto in that brilliant light across the sky. That it had been much bigger before striking Callisto’s atmosphere he knew instantly – for the cylinder seemed to have been burned as by a prolonged, white-hot flame. The metal of it, with which he was not familiar, had fused, run together into strange protuberances on the cylinder’s face.

There were flanges on the sides of the thing which must have steadied it in flight brought it to passably safe landing on Callisto. Even so it had struck deeply into Callisto’s soil, slid forth again to rest upon the plain where not the children were gathered.

“Open it, Parlece!” snapped Cala. “It is not proper that a ruler should place herself in danger, if this should prove a machine of destruction!”

By ‘ruler’ Cala did not mean herself, but any woman of Callisto. Women were ‘rulers’ to distinguish them from men, who were slaves and who lived solely on sufferance. Parlece smiled.

“Gladly will I take the chance, Mistress,” he said. “If it be a machine of destruction, may it quickly release me from bondage… and all stand close, please, rulers of Callisto, in order that I may take as many of you with me into eternity as possible if it should be the thing you fear.”

A wave of angry sound answered his brazen suggestion – and all the children gave back. Parlece knelt beside the cylinder. That it had been made by sentient beings was proved by its design, and the suggestion, in spite of the fused nature of its surface, was of blended materials. Beyond that he could tell nothing. The children gave back and Parlece smiled to himself. Here, unobserved, was his chance to prove the new power he had found for himself during his decades-long sojourn in the mountains of Callisto, where only on occasion was he visited by any of the children. He surreptitiously drew forth one of the pronged sticks. His hand closed over the grip, pressed. A streak of flame came down from the heavens from the nearest of the many clouds which hung always at night over Callisto. It was an electric spark flying from pole to pole – from the cloud to the knob on the end of the pronged stick. The stream of flame sputtered, blinding the children even in spite of the lights which they carried. A cry of fear, huge, composite, terrifying went through the constantly growing throng. Streaks of flame, savage, harsh, terrible as thunderbolts, flashed from the six prongs of the stick – and ate into the metal of the cylinder. A great hole appeared. Parlace twisted the stick in his hand, guiding the rays of ghastly flame – eating out a hole in the cylinder.

When he saw the black aperture he had opened he shifted his light instantly so as not to destroy anything the cylinder might contain. When a piece of the cylinder, smoothly cut as any agency of humanity could cut it, fell to the ground, he pressed the stick’s grip again – and the light went out of the prongs, and the sputtering flames of the lightning darted back into the cloud, their work finished.

Now the ‘children’ moved back as Parlece thrust his hand into the aperture. Cala was beside him.

“By what brazen right do you dare?” she demanded.

He stepped back, murderously angry, but knowing himself powerless in the midst of such numbers. It was so like Cala not to mention the miracle he had performed. She must be curious as to the agency he had used, but when she had finished with him she would take it from him by force, or slay him. His desire to prove what he had done might well cost him his life. But he waited, standing with his arms folded. There was one consolation – no one looked at the two pronged sticks in his leathern belt. Cala thrust her hand into the opening – and Parlece was struck in spite of himself with a surge of admiration for her. What a mate she would make for a powerful man – if only there were no conflict, if only things were as they had been when Parlece had been young! He steeled himself against admiration. Cala drew from the inside of the cylinder a smaller cylinder, apparently of the same metal as the larger one. But there were strange hieroglyphics on it. None in all Callisto had ever seen such writing… and yet a miracle was transpiring… for it seemed that with the hieroglyphics themselves came the key to their meaning – perhaps in some otherworldly manner of thought transference akin to that of Callisto. For Parlece read the words even as Cala did.

“Hark ye, children of all the solar system! And to Callisto, greetings! Prepare at once for a universal conference in the Crater of Copernicus, on Luna. Fashion space-ships for the journey… and select your representatives with care. The safety of the solar system is at stake! Make haste!”

There was no way of telling whence the message had come. It was signed merely ‘Dos-Tev of Alpha.’ But that it had reached Callisto from outside proved its importance. If such a message, the first in history, could thus be transmitted – might not the message very well be true? This came home to the children of Callisto with great force… and all eyes turned on Cala, Hense, and Purna… who gazed, in turn, on Parlece.

The eyes of the triumvirate were cold, expressionless, the eyes of women who would devastate a world for their own ends.

“You will make the journey, Parlece,” said Cala. “You will create the space-ship. For a miracle worker,” here Parlece caught a faint sign of abysmal sarcasm, “a space-ship should be easy.”

Parlece straightened.

“And when it is done, Mistress?” he said. “When I have done this thing which the rulers,” contempt dripped from the word, “are unable themselves to do; when I have gone forth – taking with me the ‘rulers’ of my own selection! – how shall I conduct myself on Luna?”

A mere male to be so bold as to select the women of his choice! For a thousand years no male had ever dared so greatly. Males were chattels to be used when needed, as one used garments. And here was one who dared suggest selection! That it was an ultimatum, the triumvirate knew – nor could they do aught but give permission. For them to risk any of themselves in any journey into space was unthinkable. The triumvirate would bid the ‘selected’ ones travel outward with Parlece. Cala nodded.

“You will discover the meaning of the conference. If there be many males among the peoples come to that conference from other planets, and they be like ourselves in structure, strong, virile, brimming with health… you will use your wit – aided by the better wit of the ‘rulers’ we shall send with you – to fill your space-ship with males on the return. Then, if those males be pleasing to us – you shall be slain for your impudence of this moment.”

It was a rare jest! If Parlece failed he would surely die. If he succeeded he would die. If he did nothing, if he refused now, the children would destroy him. It remained only for him to select the manner of his passing.

“I shall go,” he said. “This cylinder which brought the message, properly re-constructed, will serve me on the journey outward. It will hold twelve people beside myself. Let them be the fairest of all Callisto! While I labor on the ship, send me Callisto’s youngest and most beautiful that I may make my choices.”

He began his labors at once… and the triumvirate, moving with the surety of Callistonian efficiency, than which there was none more certain in the Universe of the Stars, issued orders to Callisto’s youngest and fairest. As Parlece labored – and he labored mightily, excitement mounting as he foresaw the vast adventure which lay ahead of him – many women came and stood. And at intervals he ceased from his labors and studied the women… and most of them he sent away with jeers – happy for once that he had a voice in his own affairs – while now and again there was one whom he bade wait.

Time passed as time passes on Callisto.

And, when the ship was finished, the pronged sticks had vanished from the belt of Parlece. The spiked knob of one protruded from the inner end of one extremity of the cylinder, the spiked know of the other from the opposite end. The prongs themselves, six in number in either case, were thrust forth like feelers from either end of the cylinder, as though they were tiny tentacles to find the way for the space-ship, no matter whether it traveled forward or back. The prongs were moveable in the mechanism of the space-ship, could be managed by the hand of Parlece himself. He had slanted the flanges – like thick wings on the sides of the cylinder – for the lightning fast take-off. The inner part of the cylinder was so arranged that its passengers might be seated and take the jar of the sudden anticipated start without injury.

In the control room of the space-ship, Cala, by request of Parlece, had permitted him to install the finest instruments of navigation evolved on Callisto. No ship of space was ever better equipped for a frightful journey.

The last bit of hieroglyphics on the communication signed by the mysterious ‘Dos-Tev’, had given the space-ship a course to follow from Callisto. Now Parlece, with twelve of Callisto’s ‘children’, white of face but refusing to acknowledge fear, waved a jeering salute to the triumvirate and the countless thousands of Callisto’s rulers closed the port. Then he manipulated the propulsive prong in the rear of the ship. Instantly the prongs cast off their many fires, as the sputtering lightnings came through the sides of the space ship, lovingly caressed the knob of the prong behind Parlece’s hand – and roared out through the wand, to turn into six streams of light whose power even Parlece did not know entirely.

The force struck the ground – acted with a great, thrusting force on the space ship. Almost instantly the cylinder shot forward, gained speed, flashed across the plain, lifted above the heads of the people.

The ship was away, traveling with the speed, almost, of light. Callisto became a ball of weird light in the sky behind and above him. Parlece laughed aloud. The hours passed. Callisto became a white speck in the sky. He studied his instruments, clinging close to the course the message of the cylinder had set for him.

The days and weeks, how many so ever there were of them, passed into eternity.

Many times Parlece smiled grimly as he regarded the twelve women. On Callisto they ruled, but here – they did his bidding. Back on Callisto he would surely die, should he return. His smile grew grimmer.

“You think to make the final conquest of man by this voyage,” he spoke. “Well, know now that should the conference reveal a way, we will never return!” He laughed at their anger, but they dared not attack him. “Remember then,” he said, “to pray also for failure, for you cannot win by success.” How cleverly had Parlece reversed the grim jest of Cala!

And so came the ‘children’ to Copernicus and hovered over the crater wherein lay their hopes and the answer to the mystery of the message.