The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 5. The Perfect Brain
THE song that had been upon her lips as she entered died there--frozen by the sight of
horror that met her eyes. In the center of the chamber a headless body lay upon the floor--
a body that had been partially devoured--while over and upon it crawled a half a dozen
heads upon their short, spider legs, and they tore at the flesh of the woman with their
chelae and carried the bits to their awful mouths. They were eating human flesh--eating it
Tara of Helium gasped in horror and turning away covered her eyes with her palms.
"Come!" said her captor. "What is the matter?"
"They are eating the flesh of the woman," she whispered in tones of horror.
"Why not?" he inquired. "Did you suppose that we kept the rykor for labor alone? Ah, no.
They are delicious when kept and fattened. Fortunate, too, are those that are bred for
food, since they are never called upon to do aught but eat."
"It is hideous!" she cried.
He looked at her steadily for a moment, but whether in surprise, in anger, or in pity his
expressionless face did not reveal. Then he led her on across the room past the frightful
thing, from which she turned away her eyes. Lying about the floor near the walls were
half a dozen headless bodies in harness. These she guessed had been abandoned
temporarily by the feasting heads until they again required their services. In the walls of
this room there were many of the small, round openings she had noticed in various parts
of the tunnels, the purpose of which she could not guess.
They passed through another corridor and then into a second chamber, larger than the
first and more brilliantly illuminated. Within were several of the creatures with heads and
bodies assembled, while many headless bodies lay about near the walls. Here her captor
halted and spoke to one of the occupants of the chamber.
"I seek Luud," he said. "I bring to Luud a creature that I captured in the fields above."
The others crowded about to examine Tara of Helium. One of them whistled, whereupon
the girl learned something of the smaller openings in the walls, for almost immediately
there crawled from them, like giant spiders, a score or more of the hideous heads. Each
sought one of the recumbent bodies and fastened itself in place. Immediately the bodies
reacted to the intelligent direction of the heads. They arose, the hands adjusted the leather
collars and put the balance of the harness in order, then the creatures crossed the room to
where Tara of Helium stood. She noted that their leather was more highly ornamented
than that worn by any of the others she had previously seen, and so she guessed that these