Llana of Gathol
Book 4: Invisible Men of Mars
Copyright© 2012 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Yes, Llana of Gathol was safe at last. I had brought her from captivity in the Arctic city of Pankor, stolen her from under the very nose of Hin Abtol, the self-styled Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North; and we were speeding through the thin air of dying Mars in my own fast flier toward Gathol. I was very contented with what I had achieved, but I was also very cold.
"You said that you were taking me to Gathol," said Llana, after we had left Pankor far behind. "Nothing would make me happier than to return to my father, my mother, and my native city; but how may we hope to make a landing there while Gathol is surrounded by the warriors of Hin Abtol?"
"The Panars are a stupid, inefficient lot," I replied; "most of Hin Abtol's warriors are unwilling conscripts who have no heart in waging war for their tyrannical master. These poor frozen men only endure it because they know there is no escape and prefer life and consciousness to being returned to Pankor and frozen in again until Hin Abtol needs their swords for a future war."
"'Frozen men'!" ejaculated Llana; "what do you mean by that?"
"You heard nothing of them while you were a prisoner in Pankor?" I asked, surprised.
"Nothing," Llana assured me; "tell me about them."
"Just outside the walls of the hothouse city there are rows upon rows of racks in the biting cold and bitter wind of the North Polar region. On these racks, like beef in a cold storage warehouse, thousands of warriors hang by their feet, frozen solid and in a state of suspended animation. They are captives whom he had taken on numerous raids during a period of fully a hundred years. I have talked with some who had been frozen in over fifty years.
"I was in the resuscitating room when a number of them were thawed out; after a few minutes they don't seem to be any worse for their experience, but the whole idea is revolting."
"Why does he do it?" demanded Llana. "Why thousands of them?"
"Better say thousands upon thousands," I said; "one slave told me that there were at least a million. Hin Abtol dreams of conquering all of Barsoom with them."
"How grotesque!" exclaimed Llana.
"Were it not for the navy of Helium, he might go far along the road toward the goal of his grandiose ambition; and you may thank your revered ancestors, Llana, that there is a navy of Helium. After I return you to Gathol, I shall fly to Helium and organize an expedition to write finis to Hin Abtol's dreams."
"I wish that before you do that we might try to find out what has become of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han," said Llana; "the Panars separated us shortly after we were captured."
"They may have been taken to Pankor and frozen in", I suggested.
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Llana; "that would be too terrible."
"You are very fond of Pan Dan Chee, aren't you?" I asked.
"He has been a very good friend," she replied, a little stiffly. The stubborn minx wouldn't admit that she was in love with him--and possibly she wasn't; you never can tell anything about a woman. She had treated him abominably when they were together; but when they were separated and he was in danger, she had evinced the greatest, concern for his safety.
"I don't know how we can learn anything about his fate," I said, "unless we can inquire directly of the Panars; and that might prove rather dangerous. I should like to know what has become of them and Tan Hadron of Hastor as well."
"Tan Hadron of Hastor? Where is he?"
"The last I saw of him, he was on board the Dusar, the Panar ship I stole from their line outside Gathol; and he was the prisoner of the mutinous crew that took it from me. There were a lot of assassins among them, and these were determined to kill Tan Hadron as soon as he had taken the ship to whatever destination they had decided upon; you see, none of the crew knew anything about navigation."
"Tan Hadron of Hastor," said Llana again; "his mother was a royal princess of Gathol and Tan Hadron himself one of the greatest fighting men of Barsoom."
"A splendid officer," I added.
"Steps must be taken to save him, too."
"If it is not too late," I said; "and the only chance of saving any of them lies in my reaching Helium in time to bring a fleet to Gathol before Hin Abtol succeeds in reducing it, and then on to Pankor, if we do not find these three among Hin Abtol's prisoners at Gathol."
"Perhaps we had better fly direct to Helium," suggested Llana. "A fleet from Helium could accomplish something, while we two, alone, might accomplish no more than getting ourselves captured again by the Panars --and it would go hard with you, John Carter, if Hin Abtol ever got his hands on you again, after what you did in Pankor today." She laughed. "I shall never forget what you did to Rab-zov, 'the strongest man in Pankor.'"
"Neither will Rab-zov," I said.
"Nor Hin Abtol. And the hole you made in the glass dome covering the city, when you drove the flier right through it! I'll wager they all had chills before they got that patched up. No, Hin Abtol will never forget you."
"But he never knew who I really was," I reminded Llana; "with my disguise removed, I was no longer a red man; and he might never guess that he had once had John Carter in his power."
"The results would be the same as far as you are concerned," said Llana; "I think it would be death in either event."
Before we had come far from Pankor I decided that our wisest course would be to proceed directly to Helium and enlist the aid of Tardos Mors, the jeddak. While I hold the titles of Jeddak of Jeddaks and Warlord of Barsoom, conferred upon me by the jeddaks of five nations, I have always considered them largely honorary, and have never presumed to exercise the authority implicit in them, except in times of war when even the great Jeddak of Helium has graciously served under me.
Having reached the decision to fly to Helium rather than Gathol, I turned toward the southeast. Before us lay a journey half the distance around the planet, and we were absolutely without water or provisions. Soon the towers and stately ruins of Horz were visible, reminding us both of the circumstances under which we had met Pan Dan Chee, and I thought that Llana looked down a little sadly on that long-dead city from which her lost lover had been self-exiled because of us. It was here that she had escaped from Hin Abtol, and it was here that Hin Abtol had stolen this very flier of mine that I had found and recovered in his polar capital. Yes, Horz held many memories for both of us; and I was glad when it lay behind us, this dead monument to a dead past.
Far ahead lay Dusar where water and provisions might be obtained, but the friendliness of Dusar was open to question. It had not been so many years since Carthoris, the Prince of Helium, had almost been done to death there by Astok, son of Nutus, the jeddak of Dusar; and there had been no intercourse between Helium and Dusar since that time. Beyond Dusar was no friendly city all the way to Helium.
I decided to give Dusar a wide berth, and in doing so we flew over country with which I was entirely unfamiliar. It was a hilly country; and in the long, deep valley I saw one of those rarest of all sights on Mars, a splendid forest. Now, to me a forest means fruits and nuts and, perhaps, game animals; and we were hungry. There would doubtless be mantilia plants too, the sap of which would quench our thirst; and so I decided to land. My best judgment told me that it was a risky thing to do, and subsequent events proved that my judgment was wholly correct.
I landed on level ground close to the forest, and telling Llana to remain aboard the flier ready to take off at a moment's notice, I went in search of food. The forest consisted principally of skeel, sorapus, and sompus trees. The first two are hardwood trees bearing large, delicious nuts, while the sompus trees were loaded with a citrus-like fruit with a thin red rind. The pulp of this fruit, called somp, is not unlike grapefruit, though much sweeter. It is considered a great delicacy among Barsoomians, and is cultivated along many of the canals. I had never seen any, however, as large as these, growing wild; nor had I ever seen trees on Mars of the size of many of those growing in this hidden forest.
I had gathered as much of the fruit and as many nuts as I could carry, when I heard Llana calling me. There was a note of excitement and urgency in her voice, and I dropped all that I had gathered and ran in the direction of the flier.
Just before I came out of the forest I heard her scream; and as I emerged, the flier rose from the ground. I ran toward it as fast as I can run, and that is extremely fast under the conditions of lesser gravity which prevail on Mars. I took forty or fifty feet in a leap, and then I sprang fully thirty feet into the air in an effort to seize the rail of the flier. One hand touched the gunwale; but my fingers didn't quite close over the rail, and I slipped back and fell to the ground. However, I had had a glimpse of the deck of the flier, and what I saw there filled me with astonishment and, for some reason, imparted that strange sensation to my scalp as though each separate hair were standing erect--Llana lay on the deck absolutely alone, and there was no one at the controls!
"A noble endeavor," said a voice behind me; "you can certainly jump."
I wheeled about, my hand flying to the hilt of my sword. There was no one there!
I looked toward the forest; there was no sign of living thing about me. From behind me came a laugh--a taunting, provocative laugh. Again I wheeled. As far as I could see there was only the peaceful Martian landscape. Above me, the flier circled and disappeared beyond the forest--flown with no human hand at the controls by some sinister force which I could not fathom.
"Well," said a voice, again behind me, "we might as well be on our way. You realize, I presume, that you are our prisoner."
"I realize nothing of the sort," I retorted. "If you want to take me, come and get me--come out in the open like men; if you are men."
"Resistance will be futile," said the voice; "there are twenty of us and only one of you."
"Who are you?" I demanded.
"Oh, pardon me," said the voice, "I should have introduced myself. I am Pnoxus, son of Ptantus, jeddak of Invak; and whom have I had the honor of capturing?"
"You haven't had the honor of capturing me yet," I said. I didn't like that voice--it was too oily and polite.
"You are most unco-operative," said the voice named Pnoxus. "I should hate to have to adopt unpleasant methods with you." The voice was not so sweet now; there was just a faint ring of steel in it.
"I don't know where you're hiding," I said; "but if you'll come out, all twenty of you, I'll give you a taste of steel. I have had enough of this foolishness."
"And I've had enough," snapped the voice. Somehow it sounded like a bear trap to me--all the oily sweetness had gone out of it. "Take him, men!"
I looked quickly around for the men, but I was still alone--just I and a voice were there. At least that is what I thought until hands seized my ankles and jerked my feet from beneath me. I fell flat on my face, and what felt like half a dozen heavy men leaped on my back and half a dozen hands ripped my sword from my grasp and more hands relieved me of my other weapons. Then unseen hands tied my own behind my back and others fastened a rope around my neck, and the voice said, "Get up!"
I got up. "If you come without resistance," said the voice named Pnoxus, "it will be much easier for you and for my men. Some of them are quite short tempered, and if you make it difficult for them you may not get to Invak alive."
"I will come," I said, "but where? For the rest, I can wait."
"You will be led," said Pnoxus, "and see that you follow where you're led. You've already given me enough trouble."
"You won't know what trouble is until I can see you," I retorted.
"Don't threaten; you have already stored up enough trouble for yourself."
"What became of the girl who was with me?" I demanded.
"I took a fancy to her," said Pnoxus, "and had one of my men, who can fly a ship, take her on to Invak."
I cannot tell you what an eerie experience it was being led through that forest by men that I could not see and being talked to by a voice that had no body; but when I realized that I was probably being taken to the place that Llana of Gathol had been taken, I was content, nay, anxious, to follow docilely where I was led.
I could see the rope leading from my neck out in front of me; it fell away in a gentle curve as a rule and then gradually vanished, vignette-like; sometimes it straightened out suddenly, and then I would feel a jerk at the back of my neck; but by following that ghostly rope-end as it wound among the trees of the forest and watching the bight carefully, so as to anticipate a forthcoming jerk by the straightening of the curve, I learned to avoid trouble.
In front of me and behind I continually heard voices berating other voices:
"Sense where you're going, you blundering idiot," or, "Stop stepping on my heels, you fool," or "Who do you think you're bumping into, son-of-a-calot!" The voices seemed to be constantly getting in one another's way. Serious as I felt my situation might be, I could not help but be amused.
Presently I felt an arm brush against mine, or at least it felt like an arm, the warm flesh of a bare arm; it would touch me for an instant only to be taken away immediately, and then it would touch me again in a measured cadence, as might the arms of two men walking out of step side by side; and then a voice spoke close beside me, and I knew that a voice was walking with me.
"We are coming to a bad place," said the voice; "you had better take my arm."
I groped out with my right hand and found an arm that I could not see. I grasped what felt like an upper arm, and as I did so my right hand disappeared! Now, my right arm ended at the wrist, or at least it appeared to do so; but I could feel my fingers clutching that arm that I could not see. It was a most eerie sensation. I do not like situations that I cannot understand.
Almost immediately we came to an open place in the forest, where no trees grew.
The ground was covered with tiny hummocks, and when I stepped on it it sank down a few inches. It was like walking on coil springs covered with turf.
"I'll guide you," said the voice at my side. "If you should get off the trail here alone you'd be swallowed up. The worst that can happen to you now would be to get one leg in it, for I can pull you out before it gets a good hold on you."
"Thank you," I said; "it is very decent of you."
"Think nothing of it," replied the voice. "I feel sorry for you; I am always sorry for strangers whom Fate misguides into the forest of Invak. We have another name for it which, I think, better describes it --The Forest of Lost Men."
"It is really so bad to fall into the hands of your people?" I asked.
"I am afraid that it is," replied the voice; "there is no escape."
I had heard that one before; so it didn't impress me greatly. The lesser peoples of Barsoom are great braggarts; they always have the best swordsmen, the finest cities, the most outstanding culture; and once you fall into their hands, you are always doomed to death or a life of slavery--you can never escape them.
"May I ask you a question?" I inquired.
"Certainly," said the voice.
"Are you always only a voice?"
A hand, I suppose it was his right hand, seized my arm and squeezed it with powerful, though invisible, fingers; and whatever it was that walked beside me chuckled. "Does that feel like only a voice?" it asked.
"A stentorian voice," I said. "You seem to have the physical attributes of a flesh-and-blood man; have you a name?"
"Most assuredly; it is Kandus; and yours?" he asked politely.
"Dotar Sojat," I told him, falling back upon my well-worn pseudonym.
We had now successfully crossed the bog, or whatever it was; and I removed my hand from Kandus's arm. Immediately I was wholly visible again, but Kandus remained only a voice. Again I walked alone, I and a rope sticking out in front of me and apparently defying the law of gravity. Even the fact that I surmised that the other end of it was fastened to a voice did not serve to make it seem right; it was a most indecent way for a rope to behave.
"'Dotar Sojat, '" repeated Kandus; "it sounds more like a green man's name."
"You are familiar with the green men?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; there is a horde which occasionally frequents the dead sea bottoms beyond the forest; but they have learned to give us a wide berth. Notwithstanding their great size and strength, we have a distinct advantage over them. As a matter of fact, I believe that they are very much afraid of us."
"I can well imagine so; it is not easy to fight voices; there is nothing one may get one's sword into."
Kandus laughed. "I suppose you would like to get your sword into me," he said.
"Absolutely not," I said; "you have been very decent to me, but I don't like that voice which calls itself Pnoxus. I wouldn't mind crossing swords with it."
"Not so loud," cautioned Kandus. "You must remember that he is the jeddak's son. We all have to be very nice to Pnoxus--no matter what we may privately think of him."
I judged from that that Pnoxus was not popular. It is really amazing how quickly one may judge a person by his voice; this had never been so forcibly impressed upon me before. Now, I had disliked the Pnoxus voice from the first, even when it was soft and oily, perhaps because of that; but I had liked the voice named Kandus--it was the voice of a man's man, open and without guile; a good voice.
"Where are you from, Dotar Sojat?" asked, Kandus.
"From Virginia," I said.
"That is a city of which I have never heard. In what country is it?"
"It is in the United States of America," I replied, "but you never heard of that either."
"No," he admitted; "that must be a far country."
"It is a far country," I assured him, "some forty-three million miles from here."
"You can talk as tall as you jump," he said. "I don't mind your joking with me," he added, "but I wouldn't get funny with Pnoxus, nor with Ptantus, the jeddak, if I were you; neither one of them has a sense of humor."
"But I was not joking," I insisted. "You have seen Jasoom in the heavens at night?"
"Of course," he replied.
"Well, that is the world I come from; it is called Earth there, and Barsoom is known as Mars."
"You look and talk like an honorable man," said Kandus; "and, while I don't understand, I am inclined to believe; however, you'd better pick out some place on Barsoom as your home when anyone else in Invak questions you; and you may soon be questioned--here we are at the gates of the city now."
Invak! The city in the Forest of Lost Men. At first only a gate was visible, so thickly set were the trees that hid the city wall--the trees and the vines that covered the wall.
I heard a voice challenge as we approached the gate, and I heard Pnoxus's voice reply, "It is Pnoxus, the prince, with twenty warriors and a prisoner."
"Let one advance and give the countersign," said the voice.
I was astonished that the guard at the gate couldn't recognize the jeddak's son, nor any of the twenty warriors with him. I suppose that one of the voices advanced and whispered the countersign, for presently a voice said, "Enter, Pnoxus, with your twenty warriors and your prisoner."
Immediately the gates swung open, and beyond I saw a lighted corridor and people moving about within it; then my rope tightened and I moved forward toward the gate; and ahead of me, one by one, armed men suddenly appeared just beyond the threshold of the gateway; one after another they appeared as though materialized from thin air and continued on along the lighted corridor. I approached the gate apparently alone, but as I stepped across the threshold there was a warrior at my side where the voice of Kandus had walked.
I looked at the warrior, and my evident amazement must have been written large upon my face, for the warrior grinned. I glanced behind me and saw warrior after warrior materialize into a flesh-and-blood man the moment that he crossed the threshold. I had walked through the forest accompanied only by voices, but now ten warriors walked ahead of me and nine behind and one at my side.
"Are you Kandus?" I asked this one.
"Certainly," he said.
"How do you do it?" I exclaimed.
"It is very simple, but it is the secret of the Invaks," he replied. "I may tell you, however, that we are invisible in daylight, or rather when we are not illuminated by these special lamps which light our city. If you will notice the construction of the city as we proceed, you will see that we take full advantage of our only opportunity for visibility."
"Why should you care whether other people can see you or not?" I asked. "Is it not sufficient that you can see them and yourselves?"
"Unfortunately, there is the hitch," he said. "We can see you, but we can't see each other any more than you can see us."
So that accounted for the grumbling and cursing I had heard upon the march through the forest--the warriors had been getting in each other's way because they couldn't see one another any more than I could see them.
"You have certainly achieved invisibility," I said, "or are you hatched invisible from invisible eggs?"
"No," he replied, "we are quite normal people; but we have learned to make ourselves invisible."
Just then I saw an open courtyard ahead of us, and as the warriors passed out of the lighted corridor into it they disappeared. When Kandus and I stepped out, I was walking alone again. It was most uncanny.
The city was spotted with these courtyards which gave ventilation to the city which was, otherwise, entirely roofed and artificially lighted by the amazing lights which gave complete visibility to its inhabitants. In every courtyard grew spreading trees, and upon the city's roof vines had been trained to grow; so that, built as it was in the center of the Forest of Lost Men, it was almost as invisible from either the ground or the air as were its people themselves.
Finally we halted in a large courtyard in which were many trees wherein iron rings were set with chains attached to them, and here invisible hands snapped around one of my ankles a shackle that was fastened to the end of one of these chains.
Presently a voice whispered in my ear, "I will try to help you, for I have rather taken a liking to you--you've got to admire a man who can jump thirty feet into the air; and you've got to be interested in a man who says he comes from another world forty-three million miles from Barsoom."
It was Kandus. I felt that I was fortunate in having even the suggestion of a friend here, but I wondered what good it would do me. After all, Kandus was not the jeddak; and my fate would probably rest in the hands of Ptantus.
I could hear voices crossing and recrossing the courtyard. I could see people come down the corridors or streets and then fade into nothingness as they stepped out into the courtyard. I could see the backs of men and women appear quite as suddenly in the entrances to the streets as they left the courtyard. On several occasions voices stopped beside my tree and discussed me. They commented upon my light skin and gray eyes. One voice mentioned the great leap into the air that one of my captors had recounted to its owner.
Once a delicate perfume stopped near me, and a sweet voice said, "The poor man, and he is so handsome!"
"Don't be a fool, Rojas," growled a masculine voice. "He is an enemy, and anyway he's not very good-looking."
"I think he is very good-looking," insisted the sweet voice, "and how do you know he's an enemy?"
"I was not an enemy when I brought my ship down beside the forest," I said, "but the treatment I have received is fast making one of me."
"There, you see," said the sweet voice; "he was not an enemy. What is your name, poor man?"
"My name is Dotar Sojat, but I am not a 'poor man, '" I replied with a laugh.
"That may be what you think," said the masculine voice. "Come on, Rojas, before you make any bigger fool of yourself."
"If you'll give me a sword and come out of your cowardly invisibility, I'll make a fool of you, calot," I said.
An invisible, but very material, toe kicked me in the groin. "Keep your place, slave!" growled the voice.
I lunged forward and, by chance, got my hands on the fellow; and then I held him by his harness for just long enough to feel for his face, and when I had located it I handed him a right upper-cut that must have knocked him half way across the courtyard.
"That," I said, "will teach you not to kick a man who can't see you."
"Did Motus kick you?" cried the sweet voice, only it wasn't so sweet now; it was an angry voice, a shocked voice. "You looked as though you were hitting him--I hope you did."
"I did," I said, "and you had better see if there is a doctor in the house."
"Where are you, Motus?" cried the girl.
There was no response; Motus must have gone out like a light. Pretty soon I heard some lurid profanity, and a man's voice saying, "Who are you, lying around here in the courtyard?" Some voice had evidently stumbled over Motus.
"That must be Motus," I said in the general direction from which the girl's voice had last come. "You'd better have him carried in."
"He can lie there until he rots, for all I care," replied the voice as it trailed away. Almost immediately I saw the slim figure of a girl materialize in the entrance to one of the streets. I could tell from her back that she was an angry girl, and if her back were any criterion she was a beautiful girl--anyway, she had had a beautiful voice and a good heart. Perhaps these Invaks weren't such bad people after all.
"That was a beauty that you handed Motus," said a voice behind me.
I wasn't going to bother even to turn around. What was the use of turning around and seeing no one there? But when the voice said, "I'll bet he's out for a week, the dirty Invak calot," I did turn around, for I knew no Invak had made a remark like that.
Chained to a tree near me, I saw another red man (it is strange that I should always think of myself as a red man here on Barsoom; and yet, perhaps, not so strange after all. Except for my color, I am a red man --a red man in thought and feeling to the marrow of my bones. I no longer ever think of myself as a Virginian, so ingrained has become my love for this world of my adoption.) "Well, where did you come from?" I demanded. "Are you one of the invisibles?"
"I am not," replied the man. "I have been here all along. When you were first brought I must have been asleep behind my tree, but the people stopping to comment on you awoke me. I heard you tell the girl that your name is Dotar Sojat. That is a strange name for a red man. Mine is Ptor Fak; I am from Zodanga."
Ptor Fak! I recalled him now; he was one of the three Ptor brothers who had befriended me that time that I had wished to enter Zodanga in search of Dejah Thoris. At first I hesitated to tell him who I really was; but then, knowing him to be an honorable man, I was about to when he suddenly exclaimed, "By the mother of the nearer moon! Those eyes, that skin!"
"S-h-h!" I cautioned. "I don't know the nature of these people yet, and so I thought it wiser to be Dotar Sojat."
"If you're not Dotar Sojat, who are you?" demanded a voice at my elbow. That's the trouble with this invisibility business--a man can sneak up on you and eavesdrop, and you haven't the slightest idea that there is anyone near you.
"I am the Sultan of Swat," I said, that being the first name that popped into my head.
"What's a sultan?" demanded the voice.
"A jeddak of jeddaks," I replied.
"In what country?"
"I never heard of Swat," said the voice.
"Well, now that it's out, you had better tell your jeddak that he's got a sultan chained up here in his back yard."
The voice must have gone away, for I heard it no more. Ptor Fak was laughing. "I can see that things are going to brighten up a bit now that you are here," he said. "My deepest reverence for whichever one of your ancestors gave you a sense of humor. This is the first laugh I have had since they got me."
"How long have you been here?"
"Several months. I was trying out a new motor that we have developed in Zodanga and was trying to establish a record for a circumnavigation of Barsoom at the equator, and of course this place had to be on the equator and right under me when my motor quit. How did you get here?"
"I had just escaped from Pankor with Llana, daughter of Gahan of Gathol, and we were on our way to Helium to bring back a fleet to teach Hin Abtol a lesson. We had neither food nor water on our flier; so I landed beside this forest to get some. While I was in the forest, one of these Invaks, invisible of course to Llana, climbed aboard the flier and took off with her; and twenty more of them jumped on me and took me prisoner."