John Carter of Mars (Barsoom #11)

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“I think that you are lying to me,” said the fellow. “Come along with me, all of you.”

Here seemed an end of our hopes of escape. I glanced up and down the street. It appeared to be a quiet, residential avenue. There was no one near us. Several small ships rested at the curb in front of drear, brown domiciles. That was all. No eyes were upon us. I stepped close to the fellow who had thus rashly presented himself as an obstacle in the way of Dejah Thoris’ rescue. I struck him once. I struck him with all my strength. He dropped like a log.

“You have killed him,” exclaimed Vorion. “He was one of Bandolian’s most trusted officers. If we are caught now, we shall be tortured to death.”

“We need not be caught,” I said. “Let’s take one of these ships standing at the curb. Why take the time and the risk to go farther?”

Vorion shook his head. “They wouldn’t do,” he said. “They are only for intramural use. They are low altitude ships that would never get over even a relatively small mountain range; but more important still, they cannot be rendered invisible. We shall have to go on to the field as we have planned.”

“To avoid another such encounter as we have just experienced,” I said, “we had better take one of these ships at least to the vicinity of the field.”

“We shall be no worse off adding theft to murder,” said Zan Dar.

Vorion agreed, and a moment later we were all in a small ship and sailing along a few yards above the avenue. Keenly interested, I carefully noted everything that Vorion did in starting the motor and controlling the craft. It was necessary for me to ask only a few questions in order to have an excellent grasp of the handling of the little ship, so familiar was I with the airships of two other worlds. Perhaps I should never have the opportunity to operate one of these, but it could do no harm to know how.

We quitted the flier a short distance from the field and continued on foot. As Vorion had predicted, a guard halted us and questioned him. For a moment everything hung in the balance. The guard appeared skeptical, and the reason for his skepticism was largely that which bad motivated the officer I had killed to question the regularity of Vorion’s asserted mission, the fact that Vorion was unarmed. The guard told us to wait while he summoned an officer. That would have been fatal I felt that I might have to kill this man, too; but I did not see how I could do it without being observed, as there were many Morgors upon the field, though none in our immediate vicinity.

Vorion saved the day. “Come! Come!” he exclaimed in a tone of exasperation. “I can’t wait here all day while you send for an officer. I am in a hurry. Let me take these slaves on and start them to work. The officer can come to the ship and question me as well as he can question me here.”

The guard agreed that there was something in this; and, after ascertaining the name and location of the ship which we were supposed to clean, he permitted us to proceed. I breathed an inward sigh of relief. After we had left him, Vorion said that he had given him the name and location of a different ship than that which we were planning to steal Vorion was no fool The ship that Vorion had selected was a slim craft which appeared to have been designed for speed. We lost no time boarding her; and once again I watched every move that Vorion made, questioning him concerning everything that was not entirely clear to me. Although I had spent some eighteen days aboard one of these Morgorian ships, I had learned nothing relative to their control, as I had never been allowed in the control room or permitted to ask questions.

First, Vorion magnetized the hull and sprayed it with the fine sands of invisibility; then he started the motor and nosed up gently. I had explained my plan to him, and once he had gained a little altitude he headed for the palace of Bandolian. Through a tiny lens set in the bow of this ship the view ahead was reflected upon a ground glass plate, just as an image is projected upon the finder of a camera. There were several of these lenses, and through one of them I presently saw the square tower at the rear of the palace, the tower in which Dejah Thoris and Vaja were confined.

“When I bring the ship up to the window,” said Vorion, “you will have to work fast, as the moment that we open the door in the ship’s hull, part of the interior of the ship will be visible. Some one in the palace or upon the ground may notice it, and instantly we shall be surrounded by guard and patrol ships.”

“I shall work fast,” I said.

I must admit that I was more excited than usual as Vorion brought the craft alongside the tower window, which we had seen was wide open and unbarred. U Dan and Zan Dar stood by to open the door so that I could leap through the window and then to close it immediately after I had come aboard with the two girls. I could no longer see the window now that the craft was broadside to it; but at a word from Vorion, U Dan and Zan Dar slid the door back. The open window was before me, and I leaped through it into the interior of the tower room.

Fortunately for me, fortunately for Dejah Thoris, and fortunately— for Vaja, it was the right room. The two girls were there, but they were not alone. A man held Dejah Thoris in his arms, his lips searching for hers. Vaja was striking him futilely on the back, and Dejah Thoris was trying to push his f ace from hers.

I seized the man by the neck and hurled him across the room, then I pointed to the window and the ship beyond and told the girls to get aboard as fast as they could. They needed no second invitation. As they ran across the room toward the window, the man rose and faced me. It was Multis Par!

Recognizing me, he went almost white; then he whipped out his sword and simultaneously commenced to shout for the guard.

Seeing that I was unarmed, he came for me. I could not turn and run for the window: had I, he could have run me through long before I could have reached it; so I did the next best thing. I charged straight for him. This apparently suicidal act of mine evidently confused him, for he fell back. But when I was close to him, he lunged for me. I parried the thrust with my forearm. I was inside his point now, and an instant later my fingers closed upon his throat. Like a fool, he dropped his sword then and attempted to claw my fingers loose with his two hands. He could have shortened his hold on it and run me through the heart, but I had had to take that chance. I would have finished him off in a moment had not the door of the room been then thrown open to admit a dozen Morgor warriors. I was stunned! After everything had worked so well, to have this happen! Were all our plans to be thus thwarted? No, not all.

I shouted to U Dan: “Close the door and take off! It is a command!”

U Dan hesitated. Dejah Thoris stood at his side with one band outstretched toward me and an indescribable expression of anguish on her face. She took a step forward as though to leap from the ship back into the room. U Dan quickly barred her way, and then the ship started to move away. Slowly the door slid closed, and once again the craft was entirely invisible.

All this transpired in but a few seconds while I still clung to Multis Par’s throat. His tongue protruded and his eyes stared glassily. In a moment more he would have been dead; then the Morgor warriors were upon me, and I was dragged from my prey.

My captors handled me rather roughly and, perhaps, not without reason, for I had knocked three of them unconscious before they overpowered me. Had I but had a sword! What I should have done to them then! But though I was battered and bruised as they hustled me down from the tower, I was smiling; for I was happy. Dejah Thoris had been snatched from the clutches of the skeleton men and was, temporarily at least, safe. I had good cause for rejoicing. I was taken to a small, unlighted cell beneath the tower; and here I was manacled and chained to the wall. A heavy door was slammed shut as my captors left me, and I heard a key turn in a massive lock.

 

7.PHO LAR

In solitary confinement unrelieved by even a suggestion of light, one is thrown entirely upon the resources of one’s thoughts for mitigation of absolute boredom, such boredom as sometimes leads to insanity for those of weak wills and feeble nerves. But my thoughts were pleasant thoughts. I envisaged Dejah Thoris safely bound for a friendly country in an invisible ship which would be safe from capture, and I felt that three of those who accompanied her would be definitely friendly and that one of them, U Dan, might be expected to lay down his life to protect her were that ever necessary. As to Vorion, I could not even guess what his attitude toward her would be.

My own situation gave me little concern. I will admit that it looked rather hopeless, but I had been in tight places before and yet managed to survive and escape. I still lived, and while life is in me I never give up hope. I am a confirmed optimist, which, I think, gives me an attitude of mind that more often than not commands what we commonly term the breaks of life.

Fortunately, I was not long confined in that dark cell. I slept once, for how long I do not know; and I was very hungry when a detail of warriors came to take me away, hungry and thirsty, for they had given me neither food nor water while I had been confined.

I was not taken before Bandolian this time, but to one of his officers, a huge skeleton that continually opened and closed its jaws with a snapping and grinding sound. The creature was Death incarnate. From the way he questioned me, I concluded that he must be the lord high inquisitor. In silence, he eyed me from those seemingly hollow sockets for a full minute before he spoke; then he bellowed at me.

“Thing,” he shouted, “for even a small part of what you have done you deserve death—death after torture.”

“You don’t have to shout at me,” I said; “I am not deaf.”

That enraged him, and he pounded upon his desk. “For impudence and disrespect it will go harder with you.”

“I cannot show respect when I do not feel respect,” I told him. “I respect only those who command my respect. I surely could not respect a bag of bones with an evil disposition.”

I do not know why I deliberately tried to infuriate him. Perhaps it is just a weakness of mine to enjoy baiting enemies whom I think contemptible. It is, I admit, a habit fraught with, danger; and, perhaps, a stupid habit; but I have found that it sometimes so disconcerts an enemy as to give me a certain advantage. In this instance I was at least successful in part: the creature was so furious that for some time it remained speechless; then it leaped to its feet with drawn sword.

My situation was far from enviable. I was unarmed, and the creature facing me was in an uncontrollable rage. In addition to all this, there were four or five other Morgors in the room, two of whom were holding my arms, one on either side. I was as helpless as a sheep in an abattoir. But as my would-be executioner came around the end of his desk to spit me on his blade, another Morgor entered the room.

The newcomer took in the situation at a glance, and shouted, “Stop, Gorgum!” The thing coming for me hesitated a moment then he dropped his point.

“The creature deserves death,” Gorgum said, sullenly. “It defied and insulted me—me, an officer of the Great Bandolian!”

“Vengeance belongs to Bandolian,” said the other, “and he has different plans for this insolent worm. What has your questioning developed?”

“He has been so busy screaming at me that he has had no time to question me,” I said.

“Silence, low one I,” snapped the newcomer. “I can well understand,” he said to Gorgum, “that your patience must have been sorely tried; but we must respect the wishes of the Great Bandolian. Proceed with the investigation.”

Gorgum returned his sword to its scabbard and reseated himself at his desk. “What is your name?” he demanded.

“John Carter, Prince of Helium,” I replied. A scribe at Gorgum’s side scribbled in a large book. I supposed that he was recording the question and the answer. He kept this up during the entire interview.

“How did you and the other conspirators escape from the cell in which you were confined?” Gorgum asked.

“Through the doorway,” I replied.

“That is impossible. The door was locked when you were placed in the cell. It was locked at the time your absence was discovered.”

“If you know so much, why bother to question me?”

Gorgum’s jaws snapped and ground, more viciously than ever. “You see, Horur,” he said angrily, turning to the other officer, “the insolence of the creature.”

“Answer the noble Gorgum’s question,” Horur snapped at me. “How did you pass through a locked door?”

“It was not locked.”

“It was locked,” shouted Gorgum.

I shrugged. “What is the use?” I asked. “It is a waste of time to answer the questions of one who knows more about the subject than I, notwithstanding the fact that he was not there.”

“Tell me, then, in your own words how you escaped from the cell,” said Horur in a less irritating tone of voice. “We picked the lock.”

“That would have been impossible,” bellowed Gorgum.

“Then we are still in the cell,” I said. “Perhaps you had better go and look.”

“We are getting nowhere,” snapped Horur.

“Rapidly,” I agreed.

“I shall question the prisoner,” said Horur. “We concede that you did escape from the cell.”

“Rather shrewd of you.”

He ignored the comment. “I cannot see that the means you adopted are of great importance. What we really wish to know is where your accomplices and the two female prisoners are now. Multis Par says that they escaped in a ship —probably one of our own which was stolen from a flying field.”

“I do not know where they are.”

“Do you know where they planned to go?”

“If I did, I would not tell you.”