A Fighting Man of Mars
Chapter 2: Brought Down
Copyright© 2012 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
As I approached the Warlord's palace I saw signs of activity unusual for that hour of the night. Fliers were arriving and departing, and when I alighted upon that portion of the roof reserved for military ships, I saw the fliers of a number of high officers of the Warlord's staff.
Being a frequent visitor at the palace and being well known by all the officers of the Warlord's body guard, I had no difficulty in gaining admission to the palace, and presently I was waiting in the hall, just off the small compartment in which the Warlord is accustomed to give small, private audiences, while a slave announced me to his master.
I do not know how long I waited. It could not have been a long while, yet it seemed to me a veritable eternity, because my mind was harassed by the conviction that the woman I loved was in dire danger. I was possessed by a conviction, ridiculous perhaps, but none the less real, that I alone could save her and that every instant I was delayed reduced her chances for succor before it was too late.
But at last I was invited to enter, and when I stood in the presence of the great Warlord I found him surrounded by men high in the councils of Helium.
"I assume," said John Carter, coming directly to the point, "that what brings you here tonight, Hadron of Hastor, pertains to the matter of the abduction of the daughter of Tor Hatan. Have you any knowledge or any theory that might cast any light upon the subject?"
"No," I replied. "I have come merely to obtain your authority to depart at once in an attempt to pick up the trail of the abductors of Sanoma Tora."
"Where do you intend to search?" he demanded.
"I do not yet know, sir," I replied, "but I shall find her."
He smiled. "Such assurance is at least an asset," he said, "and knowing as I do what prompts it, I shall grant you the permission you desire. While the abduction of a daughter of Helium is in itself of sufficient gravity to warrant the use of every resource to apprehend her abductors and return her to her home, there is also involved in this occurrence an element that may portend high danger to the empire. As you doubtless know, the mysterious ship that bore her away mounted a gun from which emanated some force that entirely disintegrated all the metal parts of the patrol flier that sought to intercept and question it. Even the weapons and the metal portions of the harness of the crew were dissipated into nothing, a fact that was easily discernible from an examination of the wreck of the patrol flier and the bodies of its crew. Wood, leather, flesh, everything of the animal and vegetable kingdom that was aboard the flier, has been found scattered about the ground where it fell, but no trace of any metallic substance remains.
"I am impressing this upon you because it suggests to my mind a possible clue to the general location of the city of these new enemies of Helium. I am convinced that this is but the first blow, since any navy armed with such guns could easily hold Helium at its mercy, and few indeed are the cities of Barsoom outside the empire that would not seize with avidity upon any instrument that would give them the sack of the Twin Cities.
"For some time now we have been deeply concerned by the increasing number of missing ships of the navy. In nearly all instances these were ships engaged in charting air currents and recording atmospheric pressures in different parts of Barsoom far from the empire, and recently it has become apparent that the vast majority of these ships which never return were those cruising in the southern part of the western hemisphere, an unhospitable portion of our planet concerning which we have unfortunately but little knowledge owing to the fact that we have developed no trade with the unfriendly people inhabiting this vast domain.
"This, Hadron of Hastor, is only a suggestion; only the vaguest of clues, but I offer it to you for what it is worth. A thousand one-man scout fliers will be dispatched between now and noon tomorrow in search of the abductors of Sanoma Tora; nor will these be all. Cruisers and battleships will take the air as well, for Helium must know what city or what nation has developed a weapon of destruction such as that used above Helium this night.
"It is my belief that the weapon is of very recent invention and that whatever power possesses it, must be bending every effort to perfect it and produce it in such quantities as to make them masters of the world. I have spoken. Go, and may fortune be with you."
You may believe that I lost no time in setting out upon my mission now that I had authority from John Carter. Going to my quarters I hastened my preparation for departure, which consisted principally of making a careful selection of weapons and of exchanging a rather ornate harness I had been wearing for one of simpler design and of heavier and more durable leather. My fighting harness is always the best and plainest that I can procure and is made for me by a famous harnessmaker of Lesser Helium. My equipment of weapons was standard, consisting of a long sword, a short sword, a dagger and a pistol. I also provided myself with extra ammunition and a supply of the concentrated ration used by all Martian fighting men.
As I gathered together these simple necessities which, with a single sleeping fur, would constitute my equipment, my mind was given over to consideration of various explanations for the disappearance of Sanoma Tora. I searched my brain for any slightest memory that might suggest an explanation, or point toward the possible identity of her abductors. It was while thus engaged that I recalled her reference to the jeddak, Tul Axtar of Jahar nor was there within the scope of my recollection any other incident that might point a clue. I distinctly recalled the emissary of Tul Axtar who had visited the court of Helium not long since. I had heard him boast of the riches and power of his jeddak and the beauty of his women. Perhaps, then, it might be as well to search in the direction of Jahar as elsewhere, but before departing I determined once again to visit the palace of Tor Hatan and question the slave who had been the last to see Sanoma Tora.
As I was about to set out, another thought occurred to me. I knew that in the Temple of Knowledge might be found either illustrations or replicas of the metal and harness of every nation of Barsoom, concerning which aught was known in Helium. I therefore repaired immediately to the temple and with the assistance of a clerk I presently found a drawing of the harness and metal of a warrior of Jahar. By an ingenious photostatic process a copy of this illustration was made for me in a few seconds, and with this I hastened to the palace of Tor Hatan.
The odwar was absent, having gone to the palace of the Warlord, but his major-domo summoned the slave, Kal Tavan, who had witnessed the abduction of Sanoma Tora and grappled with one of her abductors.
As the man approached I noticed him more particularly than I had previously. He was well built, with clear cut features and that air which definitely bespeaks the fighting man.
"You said, I believe, that you were from Kobol?" I asked.
"I was born in Tjanath," he replied. "I had a wife and daughter there. My wife fell before the hand of an assassin and my daughter disappeared when she was very young. I never knew what became of her. The familiar scenes of Tjanath reminded me of happier days and so increased my grief that I could not remain. I turned panthan then and sought service in other cities; thus I served in Kobol."
"And there you became familiar with the harness and the metal of many cities and nations?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"What harness and metal are these?" I demanded, handing him the copy of the illustration I had brought from the Temple of Knowledge.
He examined it briefly and then his eyes lighted with recognition. "It is the same," he said. "It is identical."
"Identical with what?" I asked.
"With the harness worn by the warrior with whom I grappled at the time that Sanoma Tora was stolen," he replied.
"The identity of the abductors of Sanoma Tora is established," I said, and then I turned to the major-domo. "Send a messenger at once to the Warlord informing him that the daughter of Tor Hatan was stolen by men from Jahar and that it is my belief that they are the emissaries of Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar," and without more words I turned and left the palace, going directly to my flier.
As I arose above the towers and domes and lofty landing stages of Greater Helium, I turned the prow of my flier toward the west and opening wide the throttle sped swiftly through the thin air of dying Barsoom toward that great unknown expanse of her remote southwestern hemisphere, somewhere within the vast reaches of which lay Jahar toward which, I was now convinced, Sanoma Tora was being borne to become not the Jeddara of Tul Axtar, but his slave, for jeddaks take not their jeddaras by force upon Barsoom.
I believed that I understood the explanation of Sanoma Tora's abduction, an explanation that would have caused her intensive chagrin since it was far from flattery. I believed that Tul Axtar's emissary had reported to his master the charm and beauty of the daughter of Tor Hatan, but that she was not of sufficiently noble birth to become his jeddara, and so he had adopted the only expedient by which he might possess her. My blood boiled at the suggestion, but my judgment told me that it was doubtless right.
During the past few years--I should say the last ten or twenty-- greater strides have been taken in the advancement of aeronautics than had been previously achieved in the preceding five hundred years.
The perfection of the destination control compass by Carthoris of Helium is considered by many authorities to have marked the beginning of a new era of invention. For centuries we seemed to have stagnated in a quiet pond of self-sufficiency, as though we had reached the acme of perfection beyond which it was useless to seek for improvement upon what we considered the highest possible achievements of science.
Carthoris of Helium, inheriting the restless, inquiring mind of his earth-born sire, awoke us. Our best minds took up the challenge and the result was rapid improvement in design and construction of air ships of all classes, leading to a revolution in motor building.
We had thought that our light, compact, powerful radium motors never could be improved upon and that man never would travel, either safely or economically, at a speed greater than that attained by our swift one-man scout fliers--about eleven hundred haads per zode (Note: Approximately one hundred and sixty-six earth miles per hour), when a virtually unknown padwar in the navy of Helium announced that he had perfected a motor that, with one-half the weight of our present motors, would develop twice the speed.
It was this type of motor with which my scout flier was equipped--a seemingly fuelless motor, since it derived its invisible and imponderable energy from the inexhaustible and illimitable magnetic field of the planet.
There are certain basic features of the new motor that only the inventor and the government of Helium are fully conversant with and these are most jealously guarded. The propeller shaft, which extends well within the hull of the flier, is constructed of numerous lateral segments insulated from one another. Around this shaft and supporting it is a series of armature-like bearings, through the center of which it passes.
These are connected in series with a device called an accumulator through which the planet's magnetic energy is directed to the peculiar armatures which encircle the propeller shaft.
Speed is controlled by increasing or diminishing the number of armature bearings in series with the accumulator--all of which is simply accomplished by a lever which the pilot moves from his position on deck where he ordinarily lies upon his stomach, his safety belt snapped to heavy rings in the deck.
The limit of speed, the inventor claims, is dependent solely upon the ratio of strength to weight in the construction of the hull. My one-man scout flier easily attains a speed of two thousand haads per zode (Note: Approximately three hundred miles per hour), nor could it have withstood the tremendous strain of a more powerful motor, though it would have been easy to have increased both the power of one and the speed of the other by the simple expedient of a longer propeller shaft carrying an additional number of armature bearings.
In experimenting with the new motor at Hastor last year, an attempt was made to drive a scout flier at the exceptional speed of thirty-three hundred haads per zode (Note: Approximately five hundred miles per hour; a haad being 1949.0592 earth feet and a zode 2462 earth hours), but before the ship had attained a speed of three thousand haads per zode it was torn to pieces by its own motor. Now we are trying to attain the greatest strength with the minimum of weight and as our engineers succeed we shall see speed increased until, I am sure, we shall easily attain to seven thousand haads per zode (Note: Over one thousand miles per hour), for there seems to be no limit to the power of these marvelous motors.
Little less marvelous is the destination control compass of Carthoris of Helium. Set your pointer upon any spot on either hemisphere; open your throttle and then lie down and go to sleep if you will. Your ship will carry you to your destination, drop within a hundred yards or so of the ground and stop, while an alarm awakens you. It is really a very simple device, but I believe that John Carter has fully described it in one of his numerous manuscripts.
In the adventure upon which I had embarked the destination control compass was of little value to me, since I did not know the exact location of Jahar. However, I set it roughly at a point about thirty degrees south latitude, thirty-five degrees east longitude, as I believed that Jahar lay somewhere to the southwest of that point.
Flying at high speed I had long since left behind the cultivated areas near Helium and was crossing above a desolate and deserted waste of ocher moss that clothed the dead sea bottoms where once rolled a mighty ocean bearing upon its bosom the shipping of a happy and prosperous people, now but a half-forgotten memory in the legends of Barsoom.
Upon the edges of plateaus that once had marked the shore line of a noble continent I passed above the lonely monuments of that ancient prosperity, the sad, deserted cities of old Barsoom. Even in their ruins there is a grandeur and magnificence that still has power to awe a modern man. Down toward the lowest sea bottoms other ruins mark the tragic trail that that ancient civilization had followed in pursuit of the receding waters of its ocean to where the last city finally succumbed, bereft of commerce, shorn of power, to fall at last an easy victim to the marauding hordes of fierce, green tribesmen, whose descendants now are the sole rulers of many of these deserted sea bottoms. Hating and hated, ignorant of love, laughter or happiness, they lead their long, fierce lives quarreling among themselves and their neighbors and preying upon any chance adventurers who happen within the confines of their bitter and desolate domain.
Fierce and terrible as are all green men, there are few whose cruel natures and bloody exploits have horrified the minds of red men to such an extent as have the green hordes of Torquas.
The city of Torquas, from which they derive their name, was one of the most magnificent and powerful of ancient Barsoom. Though it has been deserted for ages by all but roaming tribes of green men, it is still marked upon every map, and as it lay directly in the path of my search for Jahar and as I had never seen it, I had purposely laid my course to pass over it, and when, far ahead, I saw its lofty towers and battlements I felt the thrill of excitement and the lure of adventure which these dead cities of Barsoom proverbially exert upon us red men.
As I approached the city I reduced my speed and dropped lower that I might obtain a better view of it. What a beautiful city it must have been in its time! Even today, after all the ages that have passed since its broad avenues surged with the life of happy, prosperous throngs, its great palaces still stand in all their glorious splendor, that time and the elements have softened and mellowed, but not yet destroyed.
As I circled low above the city I saw miles of avenues that have not known the foot of man for countless ages. The stone flagging of their pavement was overgrown with ocher moss, with here and there a stunted tree or a grotesque shrub of one of those varieties that somehow find sustenance in the desert and wasteland. Silent, deserted courtyards looked up at me, gorgeous gardens of another happier day. Here and there the roof of a building had fallen in, but for the most part they remained intact, dreaming, doubtless, of the wealth and beauty that they had known in days of yore, and in imagination I could see the gorgeous sleeping silks and furs spread out in the sunlight, while the women idled beneath gay canopies of silks, their jeweled harnesses scintillating with each move of their bodies. I saw the pennons waving from countless thousands of staffs and the great ships at anchor in the harbor rose and fell to the undulations of the restless sea. There were swaggering sailors upon the avenues, and burly, fighting men before the doors of every palace. Ah, what a picture imagination conjured from the deathlike silence of that deserted city, and then, as a long, swinging circle brought me above the courtyard of a splendid palace that faced upon the city's great central square, my eyes beheld that which shattered my beautiful dream of the past. Directly below me I saw a score of great thoats penned in what once may have been the royal garden of a jeddak.
The presence of these huge beasts meant but one thing, and that was that their green masters were to be found nearby.
As I passed above the courtyard one of the restless, vicious beasts looked up and saw me and instantly he commenced to squeal angrily. Immediately the other thoats, their short temper aroused by the squealing of their fellow and their attention directed by his upward gaze, discovered me and set up a perfect pandemonium of grunts and squeals, which brought the result that I had immediately foreseen. A green warrior leaped into the courtyard from the interior of the palace and looked up just in time to see me before I passed from his line of vision above the roof of the building.
Realizing immediately that this was no place for me to loiter, I opened my throttle and at the same time rose swiftly toward a greater altitude. As I passed over the building and out across the avenue in front of it, I saw some twenty green warriors pour out of the building, their upward gaze searching the skies. The warrior on guard had apprised them of my presence.
I cursed myself for a stupid fool in having taken this unnecessary chance merely to satisfy my idle curiosity. Instantly I took a zig-zag, upward course, rising as swiftly as I could, while from below a savage war cry rose plainly to my ears. I saw long, wicked-looking rifles aimed at me. I heard the hiss of projectiles hurtling by me, but, though the first volley passed close to us, not a bullet struck the ship. In a moment more I would be out of range and safe and I prayed to a thousand ancestors to protect me for the few brief minutes that would be necessary to place me entirely out of harm's way. I thought that I had made it and was just about to congratulate myself upon my good luck when I heard the thud of a bullet against the metal of my ship and almost simultaneously the explosion of the projectile, and then I was out of range.
Angry cries of disappointment came faintly to my ears as I sped swiftly toward the southwest, relieved that I had been so fortunate as to be able to get away without suffering any damage.
I had already flown about seventy karads (Note: A karad is equivalent to a degree of longitude) from Helium, but I was aware that Jahar might still be fifty to seventy-five karads distant and I made up my mind that I would take no more chances such as those from which I had just so fortunately escaped.
I was now moving at great speed again and I had scarcely finished congratulating myself upon my good fortune when it suddenly became apparent to me that I was having difficulty in maintaining my altitude. My flier was losing buoyancy and almost immediately I guessed, what investigation later revealed, that one of my buoyancy tanks had been punctured by the explosive bullet of the green warriors.
To reproach myself for my carelessness seemed a useless waste of mental energy, though I can assure you that I was keenly aware of my fault and of its possible bearing upon the fate of Sanoma Tora, from the active prosecution of whose rescue I might now be entirely eliminated. The results as they affected me did not appall me half so much as did the contemplation of the unquestioned danger in which Sanoma Tora must be, from which my determination to rescue her had so obsessed me that there had not entered into my thoughts any slightest consideration of failure.
The mishap was a severe blow to my hopes and yet it did not shatter them entirely, for I am so constituted that I know I shall never give up hope of success in any issue as long as life remains to me.
How much longer my ship would remain afloat it was difficult to say, and, having no means of making such repairs as would be necessary to conserve the remaining contents of the punctured buoyancy tank, the best that I could do was to increase my speed so that I might cover as much distance as possible before I was forced down. The construction of my ship was such that at high speed it tended to maintain itself in the air with a minimum of the eighth ray in its buoyancy tanks; yet I knew that the time was not far distant when I should have to make a landing in this dreary, desolate wasteland.
I had covered something in the neighborhood of two thousand haads since I had been fired upon above Torquas, crossing what had been a large gulf when the waters of the ocean rolled over the vast plains that now lay moss covered and arid beneath me. Far ahead I could see the outlines of low hills that must have marked the southwestern shore line of the gulf. Toward the northwest the dead sea bottom extended as far as the eye could reach, but this was not the direction I wished to take, and so I sped on toward the hills hoping that I might maintain sufficient altitude to cross them, but as they swiftly loomed closer this hope died in my breast and I realized that the end of my flight was now but a matter of moments. At the same time I discerned the ruins of a deserted city nestling at the foot of the hills; nor was this an unwelcome sight since water is almost always to be found in the wells of these ancient cities, which have been kept in repair by the green nomads of the wasteland.
By now I was skimming but a few ads above the surface of the ground. (Note: An ad is about 9.75 earth feet.) I had greatly diminished my speed to avoid a serious accident in landing and because of this the end was hastened so that presently I came gently to rest upon the ocher vegetation scarcely a haad from the water-front of the deserted city.