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Planet of the Damned

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Planet of the Damned by Jack Vance

Planet of the Damned – Roy Barch is captured and taken off of Earth to serve as a slave laborer on a prison planet. Barch is going to do everything he can to get back to Earth, one way or another.

Book Details

Book Details

Planet of the Damned – Roy Barch is captured and taken off of Earth to serve as a slave laborer on a prison planet. Barch is going to do everything he can to get back to Earth, one way or another.

Roy Barch was both attracted and repulsed by the alien Komeitk Lelianr. It was her golden skin that fascinated him. It was her alien arrogance that repulsed him. Barch was going to go on a date with her, show her around San Francisco, introduce her to jazz, who knows, maybe even get lucky.

The date went wrong from the beginning and finally Barch and Komeitk Lelianr headed back to her family’s compound high on Mount Whitney. Arriving back they found her whole family, plus several guests and servants all slaughtered. The two were then kidnapped and taken to a slave labor planet by the Klau.

While Barch has a burning desire to escape and return to Earth, Komeitk Lelianr has only resignation to the fate of lifelong slavery. Barch had only this to offer to these slaves on the prison world: Blood, Sweat, Fears—and Freedom!

Planet of the Damned was published in Space Stories in the December, 1952 issue. It is a 27 chapter novel.

Jack Vance (1916–2013) began writing mystery, fantasy, and science fiction in the late 1940s. His early writings were published in various of the pulp magazines of the time. Vance was the recipient of several Hugo and Nebula awards.

SS1952 12 Planet of the Damned by Jack Vance
Space Stories 1952-12

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Excerpt: Planet of the Damned

I

MARKEL the Lekthwan, occupied a strange and beautiful dwelling on the highest crag of Mount Whitney, consisting of six domes, three minarets, and a wide terrace. The domes were formed of almost clear crystal, the minarets were white porcelain-stuff, the surrounding terrace was blue glass, and in turn was surrounded by a rococo balustrade with blue and white spiral stanchions.

To Earther minds, Markel was like his dwelling—beautiful, incomprehensible, disturbing. His skin shone lustrous gold; his features were fine, hard, exotic in their spacing. He wore soft black garments: tight breeches, sandals resting on two inches of air, a cloak which fell into dramatic shapes apparently of its own volition.

Markel welcomed no strangers, made no appointments, but contrived to conduct a large volume of business with small effort. He employed a dozen agents, conferring daily with each via Lekthwan three-dimensional television, which produced the illusion of face-to-face discussion. He occasionally flew abroad in his air-boat, occasionally received visitors from other Lekthwan domes.

His two Earther attendants, Claude Darran and Roy Barch found him formal, courteous, painfully patient. Some of their duties were familiar enough, with parallels from their own experience: washing down the terrace, polishing the air-boat; others involved apparently irrational operations. When they made mistakes, Markel repeated his instructions, while Darran and Barch reacted each to his temperament, Darran ruefully apologetic, Barch listening with grim concentration.

Markel’s psychological attitude was perhaps as much due to preoccupation as any innate conviction of superiority. On occasion he extended himself to be gracious. Noticing a mark on Barch’s chin, he asked, “How did you do that?”

“Cut myself shaving,” said Barch.

Markel’s eyebrows flickered in surprise. He entered the dome, returning a few minutes later with a flask of clear liquid. “Wipe this over your face and you’ll never need to shave again.”

Barch looked dubiously at the bottle. “I’ve heard of stuff like this. It takes your face along with the beard.”

Markel shook his head politely. “You need not worry in this case.” He turned away, then paused. “A ship will be arriving today; my family will be aboard. We will receive them formally at eleven o’clock. Is that clear?”

“Very well,” said Barch.

“You understand the landing operation?”

“Perfectly,” said Barch.

Markel nodded, continued around the terrace, the space under his sandals giving him a springing striding gait. Barch went to the quarters he shared with Darran, cautiously applied the depilatory to his face. When he felt his cheeks, the stubble had disappeared.

Darran came in. “There’s going to be a shake-up. The old man’s family is arriving today—a wife, two daughters. Now everybody toes the mark, Markel included.”

Barch nodded. “I know. He asked me if I remembered how to fold down the balustrade. Also he said ‘formal’—that means the monkey-suits.” He glanced sourly at his skin-tight green coveralls with the blue jacket. “I feel like a ballet dancer in that outfit.” He handed Darran the bottle. “Here, make yourself beautiful. It’s depilatory, removes your beard—a present from Markel. If we had ten gallons, we’d be millionaires.”

Darran weighed the flask in his hand. “Some kind of hint? Maybe we’re looking seedy.”

“If it was deodorant, I might think so.”

Darran looked at his wrist-watch. “Ten-thirty; we’d better get into our uniforms.”

WHEN they arrived at the landing stage, Markel already stood by the balustrade. He inspected them briefly, then, pulling the peak-visored cap lower over his eyes, turned to look out over the panorama to the south.

Moments passed. Down from the sky floated a glistening ball, striped red, gold, blue and silver. It expanded swiftly, the stripes flashing and whirling. Barch and Darran bent over the balustrade, felt for the locks. The balustrade collapsed into the blue glass, and a blast of cold air blew across the terrace.

The space-ball loomed overhead like a mountain, the stripes boiling and melting like the colors of a soap bubble. It pressed close, locked to the terrace.

The hull broke open into an arched portal. Markel stood like a statue; Barch and Darran stared.

Five Lekthwans came forth: two women, two men, a little girl who ran gaily across the terrace. Markel cried out a greeting, lifted the child high with one golden arm, with the other embraced the two women. There were a few moments of staccato Lekthwan conversation, then Markel set down the child, led the party into the near rotunda.

From the portal slid a dozen crates, cushioned on two inches of air, like Markel’s sandals. Barch and Darran guided them one at a time to the service dome.

The portal closed, the colors in the hull boiled furiously. The space-ball drifted back from the landing stage, spun off into the east.

Darran and Barch, left alone on the terrace, watched it dwindle to a spot of color.

“Well, that’s that,” said Darran. “Now we’ve seen the big shot’s family.” He waited, but Barch made no comment. They lifted the balustrade back into place. “The older woman must be his wife,” Darran went on reflectively, “and the two girls, his daughters.”

“Cute little kid,” said Barch.

Darran turned him a quizzical glance. “How about the other one?”

“Barch bent over a crate. “Why argue? She’s beautiful.” He glanced briefly toward the rotunda. “She’s still something off another planet, strange as a fish.”

“She looks nineteen or twenty,” Darran said ruminatively. “Of course, with Lekthwans you can’t tell. Maybe she’s forty.”

“What’s the difference?”

“No difference.”

Barch grinned. “At night all cats are gray, so the saying goes.”

“Sure,” said Darran. “After all, they are human. What did Shylock say? ‘If you cut me I bleed—’ “

Barch said gruffly, “Go recite to the Lekthwans; they need indoctrination, not me.”

Darran shrugged. “We’re making a good thing out of the Lekthwans. They pay through the nose for everything we sell them. They’ve advanced us hundreds of years. We’re building space-ships with principles of science we never even dreamed of. We’ve cut the death-rate with their medicine—”

“It’s not our science, nor our medicine.”

“It works, doesn’t it?”

“It never grew on Earth, it’s not good transplanting that alien stuff.”

Darran regarded him curiously. “If you don’t like the Lekthwans, how come you’re up here working for Markel?”

Barch turned him a speculative glance. “I could ask you the same question.”

“I’m here because I might learn something.”

Barch abruptly turned away. “Guys like you are too easy-going. You want to be nice.”

“Sure. It’s nice to be nice.”

“Are the Lekthwans nice to you? Maybe they come down to visit your house, buy you a beer?” Barch snorted. “Not on your life. They’re Lekthwans, we’re the peasants.”

“Give them time,” said Darran. “They’re a long way ahead, we’re strangers to each other. They’re decent enough— maybe a little stand-offish.”

Barch’s bright hazel eyes glittered like coals. “And in a few years—what then? We were doing pretty well as Earthers, making progress every year. Homegrown, native, natural progress. Do you know what’s going to happen to us? In those few more years you talk about, we’ll be through. We won’t be any good as Lekthwans—they won’t have us—and we’ll be a hell of a lot worse as Earthers.”

Darran gravely tapped Barch’s chest. “I’ll tell you something. You’ll never win a prize for optimism.”

“Show me something to be optimistic about,” growled Barch. “I keep thinking of a picture I once saw, a Zulu chief in his best clothes. A plug hat, a swallow-tail coat and underneath—a grass belly-band. That’s what we’re getting from the Lekthwans: the plug hat and the old coat.”

“You’ve got your opinion,” said Darran, “I’ve got mine.” He bent over a crate, gave it a shove toward the door. “Let’s be realistic. The Lekthwans are here. We can’t turn back the clock. Why should we want to? We’ve got a lot to gain.”

“Only what they decide is good for us.”

Excerpt From: Jack Vance. “Planet of the Damned.”

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