Lost City Of Burma [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Edmond Hamilton
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: A Never-Reprinted Pulp Classic! Written during the darkest days of WWII, this thundering novel of a super-scientific secret tended by a mysterious tribe in the remote fastness of the jungle sought for by both sides in the conflict with its color and strong mood setting could only have been penned the king of pulp SF, Edmond Hamilton! From the author of the Star Kings and the Sun Smasher comes this tale of the legendary Flame of Life that made those who bathed in its fires invulnerable and immortal. As the Japanese close in on the lost city whose priesthood guards the flame, pilot John Terrell and nurse Ruth Dunn must penetrate the Golden City, survive encounters with the deadly Snakemen, battle super-scientific wizardry, and discover the incredible secret of the Flame of Life - before the enemy does! This is the first ever reprinting of this masterful "book-length" novel from the December 1942 issue of Fantastic Adventures. Cover: from a painting for H.W. McCauley for a war era Fantastic Adventures.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2010
6 Reader Ratings:
JOHN TERRELL suddenly paused in his hasty preparations for departure, as the distant rattle of machine-gun fire was punctuated by two thunderous explosions. They shook the flimsy native hut to its foundations, and set the flickering gasoline lantern to swinging wildly. Then the machine guns started stuttering again.
He knew what it meant. The Allied defenders of Lashio were blowing up the remaining warehouses of munitions, a warning that this vital junction of the Burma Road was falling to the Japanese. He could hear cries and crackle of flames and racing motors, out in the night.
"Where the devil is that crazy Burmese?" Terrell muttered as he crammed things into his pockets. "If he doesn't get back soon--"
The tall, lank American hastily buckled his pistol-belt over his civilian clothes. His lean, sober young face was taut with the sense of crisis as he grabbed up his pith helmet.
Brakes squealed outside, and then his native Burmese servant bounded in. The man's thin brown face was glistening with sweat.
"I have the spare cans of gasoline in the car, sahib!" he reported. "We leave now, pretty quick? The japs are almost in town -- the last people here are heading up the Road."
"We're going pronto," Terrell nodded. "But we're not going up the Road, Sigri. We're going to turn off it and head north."
Sigri's brown face expressed incredulity. "North? But there is nothing in the north but wild jungle and mountains and uncivilized tribes."
Terrell eyed the Burmese intently. "Isn't the fabled land of Yamaya supposed to be somewhere up there, beyond the Shian River?"
"Yamaya?" The Burmese's eyes became round as he repeated the name. "But Yamaya is only a land of legend."
"But your people believe that legend, don't they?" Terrell persisted. "They believe that in that legendary northern land of Yamaya exists the Flame of Life?"
Sigri looked queerly uneasy. "The Flame of Life is only an ancient story. Many peoples tell that story."
"What is the Flame of Life supposed to be?" the American asked intently. "Is it a jewel, or an idol, or what?"
"I don't know," muttered the Burmese uncomfortably. "Tradition says only that it is a thing of supernatural powers which lies in the lost land of Yamaya. It is only a superstition."
"But that superstition is strong in the East, isn't it?" Terrell demanded. "If anyone could secure that Flame of Life, its possession would give him vast influence over the eastern peoples, wouldn't it?"
Sigri looked scared. "Terrell Sahib, you surely are not planning--"
Terrell reassured him quickly. "All I'm planning right now is to get away before the Japs catch us. And we're going north. We'd better--"
He was interrupted by a third and louder explosion. The hut shook as though to an earthquake.
"They're blowing up the last warehouses now!" Sigri cried.
"Out of here, then!" Terrell exclaimed.
They ran out of the hut into the hot, steamy blackness of the tropic night. The battered, topless car whose spare cans Sigri had filled with gasoline was waiting outside the door. But, for a moment, Terrell was spellbound by the unearthly spectacle of Lashio tonight.
The war-gods were trampling here! Red flames were spouting from scores of the flimsy buildings, casting a lurid glare high in the heavens. Shells were slamming monotonously into the huddle of burning streets, and the whining roar of diving Jap planes was squealed by the crash of bursting bombs. Burning wreckage flew skyward a block from where they stood.
Lashio was falling -- but not without savage resistance even in this final hour of its doom. Down at the southern edge of town a few 105s were still booming, and the constant crackle of machine guns told of the outnumbered Chinese, British and Americans who were determinedly taking toll of the advancing hordes of Nippon.
"That's only a rear-guard left to cover the main retreat up the Road," Terrell said tensely. "They can't hold for long."
His fists were clenched, his lank figure taut with fierce desire to go down there and join those fighting men in their last stand. But Terrell conquered that tugging emotion.
"Our job is to get away to the north," he said harshly. "Come on!"
Sigri leaped behind the wheel of the car and gunned its motor. Terrell jumped in beside him. The car sped up a street of flaming shacks, twisting to avoid shell-craters and fallen debris.
Shadowy shapes of looters skulked in the burning town but most of its inhabitants were already miles away, streaming up the Road toward China. Smashed trucks and empty shell-cases littered the way.
They were at the north edge of town, where the Road wound out into the hills, when a figure leaped out into their headlights.
"Hold it, Sigri -- that's a girl!" exclaimed Terrell hastily.
The girl came running to Terrell's side as the car halted. She looked absurdly small in her khaki shirt and short skirt. Her dark head was bare and there was a smudge of grease on her firm little chin.
"You're an American?" she cried to Terrell. "Thank Heaven! I'm Ruth Dunn, nurse with the American hospital unit. I've two wounded men I have to get up the Road, and my ambulance smashed its axle."
Terrell now saw the men behind her.
One was a haggard youngster in the slate blue of the Royal Air Force, his arm in a sling. The other was a Chinese officer with an imperturbable olive face, who leaned on a makeshift crutch as he puffed a cigarette.
"They're Lieutenant Aleck Harris, and Captain Yuan Chi of the Route Army," Ruth Dunn continued eagerly. "I can make them comfortable among the supplies in your back seat."
"Sorry, but I'm not going up the Road," Terrell reluctantly told the girl. "I'm forking off it a few miles from here and heading north."
The nurse's brown eyes grew stormy and scornful. "You know the Japs will drive on up the Road and you figure the northern jungles will be safer -- is that it? Well, you can't go north -- these men can't be left here to be slaughtered."
Terrell set his teeth. He had never faced a harder task than to leave this girl and the two wounded men here in doomed Lashio.
But he had to do it, he knew. The mission upon which he was engaged was too all-important to be thwarted by humanitarian impulses.
"It's impossible," he said stonily.
"Drive on, Sigri."
The Burmese hesitated. "Maybe after all we had better go up the Road than north, sahib?" he suggested hopefully.
Sigri didn't want to go north, Terrell could see. His mention of the legendary land of Yamaya, of the fabled Flame of Life, had roused the man's superstitions. That was why Terrell hadn't told Sigri the direction they would take until the last moment before departure.
"You heard me," he rapped to the servant. "Get going."
Harris, the RAF pilot, stared at him incredulously, as though unable to believe that an American was actually deserting them. The Chinese officer puffed his cigarette without change of expression.
But Ruth Dunn, her face white with anger, suddenly acted. Before Terrell could realize her intention, she snatched the pistol out of his belt holster and leveled it at his head.
"We're going up the Road!" she blazed. "If you value your skin as highly as you seem to, you'll change your plans."
Terrell felt a shock of alarm and dismay. For a moment he meditated snatching to recover his gun.
But Ruth Dunn's snapping brown eyes had such scorn and determination in them that he knew such a move would be fatal. She thought he had refused to help her because of cowardly solicitude for his own safety, and she wouldn't hesitate a moment to shoot him and take the car.
Boom! The crash of bombs suddenly dominating the death-throes of the burning town behind them put a period to the tense moment.
"If we don't go quick, the Japs getaus sure!" shrilled Sigri.
"All right--get in," Terrell grated to the girl. "You hold the high card."
Ruth helped the limping Chinese and the Britisher with the shattered arm into the back seat of the car. She got in with them, sitting crampedly amid the gasoline-cans and supplies back there.
"Straight up the Road to Kun-ming," she ordered Sigri. And added in the native Burmese tongue, "Tik ao!"
Sigri needed no command to go fast. The car rabbitted ahead along the gravel highway, away from the doomed town.
Terrell's thoughts were a confusion of dismay. He had to retrieve this disastrous situation somehow. He must get northward before the Japs cut off the way there, and forestall him.
If only he were a free agent, he'd go to any risk to help the American nurse and her charges. Those two men had been wounded fighting the common enemy of civilized nations. But he wasn't a free agent -- and he couldn't tell these people why he wasn't.
Ruth Dunn was looking back, though the pistol still rested on her knee with its muzzle trained on Terrell's back. Her soft face was white in the lurid red glare of burning Lashio.
"It -- it's like the end of the world," she said unsteadily, "Like a horrible nightmare."
"I have seen all this many times before, in China in the last five years," Yuan Chi said quietly. "We have retreated much from the Japanese. But very soon, I think that we will retreat no longer."
"Yuan's right -- we'll be back here," gritted Aleck Harris. The RAF pilot's haggard face was grim. "And when we come back, we'll give them hell with bells on."
Terrell turned his attention back to the highway ahead. In the splash of the headlights, the wreckage of an evacuating horde strewed the way. Cases of supplies that had been abandoned, pitiful heaps of native possessions, a few straggling, dazed-looking Burmese.
But most of the Burmese populace was far ahead, streaming up the Road toward China in frantic flight from the merciless invaders. Somewhere up ahead, too, the Chinese and British and American commands were organizing a new line of resistance while the sacrificial rear-guard held Lashio to the last minute.
Grey mists were beginning to swirl up into the bobbing glow of the headlamps. Dawn was not far away, Terrell knew. Then his heart jumped as he saw that they were passing the rude oxcart road that forked northward off the Road.
That was his own way! That rude trail led into the unmapped northern jungles that hid the thing he must find! But already they had passed the fork, were climbing on up the looping grades of the Road.
Terrell tried a desperate appeal.
"Listen, I can't go this way! I've simply got to go northward."
Ruth Dunn's voice was a whiplash of contempt. "I never before realized there could be Americans like you. Worrying about yourself, when thousands of men have died back there and are still dying."
Terrell groaned inwardly. If he could only tell this girl the truth and convince her of it! But he had purposely left all credentials behind, and she'd think his story merely a panic-born falsehood.
Dawn was filtering greyly through the mists. Level fingers of sunlight reached from the east and began to disclose the great shoulders of grey-green land across which the Road wound northeastward.
Almost instantly, as the protective veil of darkness was lifted, there came the whine of motors from the heavens behind them.
"Planes!" exclaimed Aleck Harris.
"They'd be Japs, coming up to strafe the evacuation on the Road."
"Maybe they're American Volunteer fliers," Ruth said hopefully, looking back up at the misty sky.
"No chance -- the AVG chappies' bases were all knocked out, after they'd smashed the Japs five times running," Harris replied. "I'm afraid we're in for it--"
Terrell yelled warning to Sigri at that moment. He had heard the drone of motors roaring suddenly louder and lower.
Two planes with the sinister emblem of the Rising Sun upon their wings were diving toward them. Machine-gun bullets stitched the gravel alongside them as Sigri swerved the car to the left.
The planes roared overhead -- the Burmese driver frantically braked as Terrell shouted. It was not a moment too soon, for the stick of bombs exploded in geysers of spouting dirt just ahead of them.
Their car rocked from the blast, and Terrell felt gravel pattering down on them. The planes were roaring onward in search of other prey.
Terrell saw his chance! Ruth Dunn was clutching at the door of the rear seat, to right herself. He reached swiftly back and snatched the pistol from her hand before she recovered her presence of mind.
"Now, turn around, Sigri!" Terrell cried. "Go back to that northward fork!"
"You coward!" cried the girl. And Aleck Harris rose in the seat, his face raging and his uninjured hand balling into a fist.
"Get back down there, both of you," Terrell barked, holding the gun. "I'm going north as I planned, and leaving you three here."
Frightened, Sigri had spun the car back to the fork they had passed but a few moments before. As they reached it, the Burmese uttered a hoarse cry and pointed back along the winding Road toward Lashio.
"The invaders are coming!"
The sun flooded everything with brazen light now. Terrell could plainly see swift grey scout-cars racing out of Lashio toward them. They were miles away, but coming fast.
"That means the Japs have bypassed our rear-guard holding Lashio," he muttered.
His eyes swung to the furious girl and the two wounded men.
"I meant to leave you three here to be picked up by our rear-guard when it evacuated, but I can't do that now," he said rapidly. "The Japs have gained the Road and they'd cut you down on sight:"
"Why should you care about that as long as your own skin is safe?" Ruth flamed at him.
Terrell ignored her words. "You've got to go north with me, now. Not all the way -- but I'll take you far enough that you may be able to cut east across country to Kun-ming. It's the best I can do."
Sigri had swung the car into that oxcart road leading northward. Ahead of them loomed the green wall of the jungle that swallowed up this rude native highway. The car bumped and lurched in the ruts.
Terrell looked back tensely. Had those Jap scout cars sighted them? It didn't matter -- sooner or later there would be Japs after them. He was forebodingly certain of that.
He looked ahead again. The unmapped wilderness of northern Burma was like a great ocean of jungle into which they were launching. Could he find in it the fantastic object of his desperate quest before he was forestalled?