Authors: Ron Goulart
“What about the detecting gear?” Tad jabbed a finger into the air.
“My boy, I have just rendered it all on the fritz. None of their equipment is now, inexplicably to their halfwit organic brains, operating.” He tapped his massive chest, producing an echoing series of thumps. “One of the numerous gifts bestowed on me by my creator is the ability to kibosh mechanisms at a distance. Come along, children. Even humans can repair things if they work at it long enough.”
“I’m not helping your cause much,” said Jana as they hurried on after the striding robot. “My husband’s people have probably teamed up with your cousin’s crew. All I’ve done is add to the number of vexations.”
“Cousin Joshua will keep after me whether I’m with you or not,” he told the girl, taking hold of her arm. “If you’re planning to suggest separating, don’t.”
She laughed softly. “Okay, all right. We’ll remain a team,” she said. “And if later on you . . . well, never mind.”
“You haven’t,” he said, deciding to bring up something he’d long wanted to, “really told me much about . . . about your marriage.”
“No, I haven’t,” said Jana.
“Up until now I haven’t been the kind of guy who pried much into people’s lives. You know, I felt I was a kid more or less and you didn’t go asking grownups what they were up to. At school, with other guys I sat in on a lot of bull sessions where we . . . the point is, I feel concerned about you, Jana.”
“Yes, I know you do.” She placed her hand over his where it rested on her arm. “Thing is, Tad, I’m really not an admirable person at all. When I was a little girl my mother used to read me a story book . . . I don’t remember the name of it. The little boy it was about continually got into fantastic messes, one after the other. When his mother came to rescue him, one of his friends would explain to her, ‘He brought it on himself.’ A good motto for me. She brought it on herself.”
“Everybody gets into a bad situation once in awhile,” said Tad. “But I don’t believe anything can lock you into a lifelong path of bad times.”
“Come on, you only have a few years’ lead on me. Hardly enough of a span for you to try playing the ancient wise person with me.”
“If you knew how I’d spent those few years you—”
“We better halt,” suggested Electro, doing just that. Tad realized he’d been concentrating on the girl beside him and ignoring the jungle ahead. “What are they?” he asked.
“Person-eating tharks,” answered Electro.
Two of the huge killer cats were on the trail some hundred yards in front of them. Pale green animals with fangs showing and tails switching.
“Can you,” inquired Tad, “deal with them?”
“Yes, we’ve nothing to—”
From the branches directly above came a resounding cry.
With another booming cry a large muscular man in an animal-skin loincloth came dropping out of the trees. He landed square on the back of one of the tharks.
The other beast gave out a startled snarl, its fur rose and it went galloping away into the early morning jungle.
The nearly naked man struggled with the remaining thark, attempting to get a neck-breaking hold on it. The thark seemed intent only on joining its retreating mate.
“Stay still,” urged the jungle man.
“Bangalla! Bangalla!” There was another shout from above, a second jungle man came plummeting down out of the trees. He hit a few feet from the struggle.
“Don’t need you, Mort,” grunted the jungle man who was tangling with the unhappy thark.
His brother wiped grass stains off an elbow. “Thought there were two of the darn things, Dik.”
“Well, there were,” said Dik, panting. “Except that I . . . well, I scared one off.”
“Bangalla! Bangalla!” A third jungle man dropped from the tree branches. A ringer for the other two, he hit directly onto the back of the jungle man and the thark.
This caused the wrestling jungle man to lose his hold, thus enabling the thark to dash away.
“Now see, Jerry,” said Dik, squatted on the trail, “you come nosing in and you scare off the only really good challenge we’ve had in—”
“Me?” Jerry put hands on his bronzed hips. “You two seem to have forgotten it was my turn. Yes, my turn.”
“No, if anything it was me who got screwed out of a turn,” said Mort, brushing his long dark hair back from his handsome brow. “See, you got the rogue grout who was terrorizing the village, Jer. Then Dik took care of the—”
“The rogue grout was two months ago,” cut in Jerry. “You’re not trying to tell me I’m supposed to wait two lousy months before I—”
“Could be,” said Dik, massaging his side, “there’s not enough work for three jungle men in this part of the—”
“Oh, boy, here it comes again.” Jerry gave a scornful chuckle. “You’re going to suggest I quit so—”
“You could retire and live quite comfortably,” Mort told him. “The money from the ivory we found in the elephant’s graveyard provides plenty—”
“Oh, sure, live on that and desert the family business.” Jerry shook his head. “Boy, if dad could see you guys now he’d—”
“Good morning, gentlemen,” said Electro, leaving the girl and Tad and moving closer to the bickering jungle men. “We appreciate your frightening off those tharks for us.”
“Manners,” said Jerry to his brothers. “There’s another thing dad was always trying to instill in you dolts. Here you let our guests stand around while—”
“I was wrestling the damn thark,” reminded Dik. “I was busy doing what a jungle man is supposed to do, whereas you two bumpkins were falling out of trees and—”
“If that poor thark hadn’t broken your fall you’d have—”
“Forgive my brothers, sir,” said Mort. “It is sir, isn’t it, and not madam? Or miss? With you robots I’m never quite cert—”
“Of course I’m masculine,” said Electro, briefly glancing down at himself. “I did get rid of any traces of Mother Z, didn’t I?”
“I didn’t mean to imply there was anything effeminate about you, sir,” said Mort. “What I was trying to—”
“Mort’s not much good at communicating with anyone,” said Jerry. “You ought to see him trying to converse with an ape, or even a snerg. He actually has trouble getting through to tigers, if you can imagine that.”
“Well, I don’t fancy a tiger would be all that—”
“But we were raised by tigers,” said Jerry. “Or rather Dad was. So there’s a family tradition, as it were, for being able to get along with the things.”
“Allow me,” said Electro, “to introduce myself. I am Bozo the Robot and my young charges are Constance and Ulric Rowdybush, a devoted brother and sister I am escorting.”
“Are you maybe lost in the jungle?” inquired both Mort and Jerry at once.
“No, we are perfectly aware of our location,” replied Electro.
“Reason we ask,” said Dik, “is we’re pretty good at guiding lost travelers to safety. I mean, that is part of what jungle men do, after all.”
“You still haven’t,” pointed out Jana while she and Tad approached the group, “told us who you are.”
“Manners,” said Jerry. “We’re the Ty-Gor Triplets.”
“Our father,” added Dik, “was Ty-Gor.”
“The famous jungle man,” said Mort, watching their faces.
“Doesn’t ring a bell, miss?”
“I bet she’s heard of Ka-anga,” said Jerry, kicking at a clump of moss with his big toe. “Him I bet she’s heard of.”
“Oh, yes, Ka-anga the jungle man,” said Jana. “He was well-known when I was a child. He rescued lost travelers in the jungle, fought wild animals and occasionally stumbled onto a hidden civilization. Everybody’s heard of him.”
“He stole the whole idea from our dad,” said Dik.
“Exactly,” said Mort. “The entire jungle man gimmick was dreamed up by our father. He did it quite by accident, you understand. His parents were eaten by tharks and he was left alone in these wilds. Yes, alone in the wilderness, a wee babe of four years and—”
“Four years old, that’s not so wee,” said Jana.
“He was small for his age,” said Jerry. “Now let me get on with the Ty-gor legend. Okay, so there was Pop a wee babe all alone and this maternal tiger found him and it chanced she had recently lost her own baby. She took in Dad and nursed him and reared him.”
“That won’t work, will it?” asked the girl. “You can’t raise a human on tiger milk, can you?”
“Sure you can,” said Dik. “She reared our Dad, didn’t she?”
“Tiger’s milk is good for you,” said Mort.
“Anyhow, dad grew up with the tigers and he took to calling himself Ty-gor,” continued Jerry. “See, it sounds sort of like tiger. Ty-gor.”
“What was his real name?” Jana asked.
The brothers all studied their toes.
“It wasn’t anything near so catchy,” said Dik finally.
“No, Ty-gor has a real snappy quality. Ty-gor. Boy, with a name like that and the attack cry of the Bimoonda people Dad was—”
“What are the Bimoonda people?” Tad asked.
“Oh, just some people who yell frightening things when they attack their enemies.”
“Do they live around here?”
“They used to,” said Dik. “Ka-anga always claimed the tribe never existed and dad made up the yell. We, though, have the family scrapbooks up in the tree mansion and—”
“Do you live in a tree?” asked the girl.
“You have to,” answered Dik. “It’s part of the tradition. Jungle man, tree house. Of course, since there are three of us, we had to build bigger—”
“I’m certain you lads have other chores to attend to,” put in Electro. “A jungle man’s lot is a busy one, no doubt. We’ll bid you a fond farewell,”
“Matter of fact,” admitted Jerry, “you folks are the first lost travelers we’ve had in over a month.”
“We sure would be pleased to guide you someplace,” Dik offered, smiling hopefully at them.
“My own abilities as a guide are unexcelled,” Electro told them. “Even though I didn’t have the advantage of a parent who was suckled by a tiger.”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to explain any further,” said Jerry, his handsome face downcast.
“If you have nothing better to do,” said Jana, “you can guide us for awhile. We’re en route to the old URTS depot.”
“Nix,” the robot whispered in her ear, adding a gentle nudge in the ribs. “I don’t want to confide our destination to anyone.”
“We can trust the Ty-gor Triplets,” she said. “Let them, Electro. It’ll brighten their whole day.”
After nearly a minute Electro said, “Lead on, gentlemen.”
“You’ve never known which way north is,” Dik told Mort. “For a jungle man you have a piss poor sense of—”
“I know one thing, I know dad never went around using foul language in front of—”
“Gents,” said Electro, addressing the halted trio. “We wish to take a leftwards direction at this forking of the trail. The entrance to the long abandoned underground railway facility should lie a scant half mile from us.”
“But that path doesn’t go north,” said Dik.
“Yes, it does,” Electro assured him. “Trust me, I have a built-in compass.”
“One of the toughest things,” Jerry said to Tad when they were moving along the new trail, “about being a jungle man is having to go barefoot. Even now, with my poor feet fairly calloused, I don’t much enjoy it. Sometimes you step on a burr or prickers or a little spikey lizard and you let out a howl.”
“Maybe you should,” suggested Tad, “get into another line of work.”
“Nope, that’s impossible. Dad brought us up to be jungle men, it’s in our blood. Dropping a tradition like the Ty-gor tradition isn’t possible.”
“Have you thought about wearing shoes?”
“Jungle men don’t.”
Jana was walking near the robot at the moment. “Why was this tunnel system we’re heading for abandoned? Is it safe?”
“Perfectly safe and nearly in mint condition,” replied Electro. “The Underground Rapid Transit System respresents a colossal boondoggle, my dear. Built near twenty years ago to enrich a gaggle of crooked local politicos. Oh, and there was some talk about bringing civilization to this part of the wilderness. Since no one in his or her right mind would want to inhabit this pesthole of a jungle, the system never thrived and soon fell into disuse.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize our jungle as a pesthole,” said Dik.
“It is not a tourist’s delight,” said the robot. “You should be thankful URTS was a failure. Otherwise you’d be swinging from lamp posts instead of trees.”
“Yes, but we’d have a lot more people passing through,” said Mort. “One of the negative things about this jungle man trade is the tedium. Sit around and wait, sit around and wait.”
“It wouldn’t be boring if there were only one jungle man servicing the area,” Dik pointed out.
“You couldn’t handle it solo,” Mort said. “You’d—”
“Allow me,” said Electro, “to thank you for a most helpful piece of guidance.” He made a sweeping gesture with his left arm. “We have arrived.”
A relatively massive dome of multicolored glaz stood before them. Each panel was three feet square and of a different pastel hue, the frame of the Underground Rapid Transit depot was of dark metal. Vines had long ago climbed high up the structure, flowering plants had followed. Birds perched on the tangle of branches, insects hid among the leaves humming.
“Doesn’t give the impression of being a going concern,” remarked Jana.
“There’s a functional tubetram at this end of the line.” Electro nodded across the high grass of the depot clearing. “I’ve been in touch with the dispatching computer while we’ve been on our hike. Fairly sensible old mechanism, except for a slight touch of amnesia. This tropical climate does it.”
“I doubt there are,” Dik was saying to Mort.
“We’d better check anyway, that’s the Ty-gor style.”
“What’s he beefing about now?” inquired Jerry.
“We have to precede these folks into the depot,” said Mort, pointing at the overgrown edifice. “To confront any perils which might be lurking within.”
His jungle man brother studied the building as they all came downhill toward it. “We’re not noted for indoor work.”
“Wasn’t Dad always stumbling on some lost city or other?”
“This isn’t a lost city, it’s a lost subway terminal,” said Jerry. “For that matter, it isn’t really very lost since everybody seems to know it’s here.”