10.TWO THOUSAND PARACHUTES
Kantos Kan’s flagship narrowly escaped annihilation at the first blow of the giant. The creature’s club only missed the leading ship by a few feet.
From their position on the malagor, John Carter and Dejah Thoris could see many of the airships turning back toward the mountains. Others, however, were not so fortunate.
Caught in the wild rush of air resulting from the giant’s swinging club, the craft pitched and tossed crazily out of control. Again and again the huge tree trunk split through the air as the giant swung blow after blow at the helpless ships.
“Kantos Kan is re-forming his fleet,” John Carter shouted above the roar of battle as the fighting on the ground was once more resumed with increased zeal.
“The ships are returning again,” cried the princess, “toward that awful creature!”
“They are spreading out in the air,” the earthman replied. “Kantos Kan is trying to surround the giant!”
“Look, they are giving him some of Pew Mogel’s own medicine!”
Helium’s vast fleet of airships was darting in from all sides. Others came zooming down from above. As they approached within range of their massive target, the gunners would pour out a veritable hail of bullets and rays into the giant’s body.
Dejah Thoris sighed in relief. “He can’t stand that much longer!” she said.
John Carter, however, shook his head sadly as the giant began to strike down the planes with renewed fury.
“I’m afraid it’s useless. Not only those bullets but the ray-guns as well are having no effect upon the creature. His body has been imbued with a serum that Ras Thavas discovered. The stuff spreads throughout the tissue cells and makes them grew immediately with unbelievable speed to replace all wounded or destroyed flesh.”
“You mean,” Dejah Thoris asked, horror-stricken, “the awful monster might never be destroyed?”
“It is probable that he will live and grow forever,” replied the earthman, “unless something drastic is done to destroy him.”
A sudden fire of determination flared in the earthman’s steel grey eyes.
“There may be a way yet to stop him, my princess, and save our people —”
A weird, bold plan had formulated itself in John Carter’s mind. He was accustomed to acting quickly on sudden impulse. Now he ordered his malagor down close over Tars Tarkas’s head.
Although he knew the battle was hopeless, the green man was fighting furiously on his great thoat.
“Call your men back to the mountains,” shouted Carter to his old friend. “Hide out there and reorganize—wait for my return!”
The next half hour found John Carter and the girl beside Kantos Kan’s flagship. The great Helium Fleet had once more retreated over the mountains to take stock of its losses and re-form for a new attack.
Every ship’s captain must have known the futility of further battle against this indomitable element; yet they were all willing to fight to the last for their nation and for their princess, who had so recently been rescued.
After the earthman and the girl boarded the flagship, they freed the great malagor that had so faithfully served them. Kantos Kan joyously greeted the princess on bended knee and then welcomed his old friend.
“To know you two are safe again is a pleasure that even outweighs the great sadness of seeing our City of Helium fall into the enemy’s hands,” stated Kantos Kan sincerely.
“We have not lost yet, Kantos Kan,” said the earthman. “I have a plan that might save us—I’ll need ten of your largest planes manned by only a minimum crew.”
“I’ll wire orders for them to break formation and assemble beside the flagship immediately,” replied Kantos Kan, turning to an orderly.
“Just a minute,” added Carter. “I’ll want each plane equipped with two hundred parachutes.”
“Two hundred parachutes?” echoed the orderly. “Yes, sir!” Almost immediately there were ten large aircraft, empty troop ships, drifting in single file formation beside Kantos Kan’s flagship. Each had a minimum crew of ten men and two hundred parachutes, two thousand parachutes in all! Just before he boarded the leading ship, John Carter spoke to Kantos Kan.
“Keep your fleet intact,” he said, “until I return. Stay near Helium and protect the city as best you can. I’ll be back by dawn.”
“But that monster,” groaned Kantos Kan. “Look at him. We must do something to save Helium.”
The enormous creature, standing one hundred and thirty feet tall, dressed in his ill-fitting, baggy tunic, was tossing boulders and bombs into Helium, his every action dictated through short wave by Pew Mogel, who sat in the armored howdah atop the giant’s head.
John Carter laid his hand on Kantos Kan’s shoulder.
“Don’t waste further ships and men uselessly in fighting the creature,” he warned “and trust me, my friend. Do as I say—at least until dawn!”
John Carter took Dejah Thoris’s hand in his and kissed it. “Goodbye, my chieftain,” she whispered, tears filling her eyes.
“You’ll be safer here with Kantos Kan, Dejah Thoris,” spoke the earthman; and then, “Goodbye, my princess,” he called and vaulted lightly over the craft’s rail to the deck of the troop ship alongside. It pained him to leave Dejah Thoris; yet he knew she was in safe hands.
Ten minutes later, Dejah Thoris and Kantos Kan watched the ten speedy craft disappear into the distant haze.
When John Carter had gone, Kantos Kan unfurled Dejah Thoris’s personal colors beside the nation’s flag; so that all Helium would know that their princess had been found safe and the people be heartened by her close presence.
During his absence, Kantos Kan and Tars Tarkas followed the earthman’s orders, refraining from throwing away their forces in hopeless battle. As a result, Pew Mogel’s fighters had moved closer and closer to Helium; while Pew Mogel himself was even now preparing Joog to lead the final assault upon the fortressed city. Exactly twenty-four hours later, John Carter’s ten ships returned.
As he approached Helium, the earthman took in the situation at a glance. He had feared that he would be too late, for his secret mission had occupied more precious time than he had anticipated.
But now he sighed with relief. There was still time to put into execution his bold plan, the plan upon which rested the fate of a nation.
11.A DARING PLAN
Fearing that Pew Mogel might somehow intercept any shortwave signal to Kantos Kan, John Carter sought out the flagship and hove to alongside it.
The troop ships that had accompanied him on his secret mission were strung out behind their leader.
Their captains awaited the next orders of this remarkable man from another world. In the last twenty-four hours they had seen John Carter accomplish a task that no Martian would have even dreamed of attempting.
The next four hours would determine the success or failure of a plan so fantastic that the earthman himself had half-smiled at its contemplation.
Even his old friend, Kantos Kan, shook his head sadly when John Carter explained his intentions a few minutes later in the cabin of the flagship.
“I’m afraid it’s no use, John Carter,” he said. “Even though your plan is most ingeniously conceived, it will avail naught against that horrible monstrosity.
“Helium is doomed, and although we shall all fight until the last to save her, it can do no good.”
As he talked, Kantos Kan was looking down at Helium far below. Joog the giant could be seen on the plain hurling great boulders into the city.
Why Pew Mogel had not ordered the giant into the city itself by this time, Carter could not understand—unless it was because Pew Mogel actually enjoyed watching the destructive effect of the boulders as they crashed into the buildings of Helium.
Actually, Joog, however frightful in appearance, could best serve his master’s purpose by biding his time, for he was doing more damage at present than he could possibly accomplish within the city itself.
But it was only a matter of time before Pew Mogel would order a general attack upon the city.
Then his entrenched forces would dash in, scaling the walls and crashing the gates. Overhead would swoop the supporting apes on their speedy mounts, bringing death and destruction from the air.
And finally Joog would come, adding the final coup to Pew Mogel’s victory.
The horrible carnage that would then fall upon his people made Kantos Kan shudder.
“There is no time to lose, Kantos Kan,” spoke the earthman. “I must have your assurance that you will see that my orders are followed to the letter.”
Kantos Kan looked at the earthman for some time before he spoke.
“You have my word, John Carter,” he said, “even though I know it will mean your death, for no man, not even you, can accomplish what you plan to do!”
“Good!” cried the earthman. “I shall leave immediately; and when you see the giant raise and lower his arm three times, that will be your signal to carry out my orders!”
Just before he left the flagship, John Carter knocked at Dejah Thoris’s cabin door.
“Come,” he heard her reply from within. As he threw open the door, he saw Dejah Thoris seated at a table. She had just flicked off the visiscreen upon which she had caught the vision of Kantos Kan. The girl rose, tears filling her eyes.
“Do not leave again, John Carter,” she pleaded. “Kantos Kan has just told me of your rash plan—it cannot possibly succeed, and you will only be sacrificing yourself uselessly. Stay with me, my chieftain, and we shall die together!” John Carter strode across the room and took his princess in his arms—perhaps for the last time. She pillowed her head on his broad chest and cried softly. He held her close for a brief moment before he spoke.
“Upon Mars,” he said, “I have found a free and kindly people whose civilization I have learned to cherish. Their princess is the woman I love.
“She and her people to whom she belongs are in grave danger. While there is even a slight chance for me to save you and Helium from the terrible catastrophe that threatens all Mars, I must act.”
Dejah Thoris straightened a little at his words and smiled bravely as she looked up at him.
“I’m sorry, my chieftain,” she whispered. “For a minute, my love for you made me forget that I belong also to my people. If there is any chance of saving them, I would be horribly selfish to detain you; so go now and remember, if you die the heart of Dejah Thoris dies with you!”
A moment later John Carter was seated behind the controls of the fastest, one-man airship in the entire Helium Navy.
He waved farewell to the two forlorn figures who stood at the rail of the flagship.
Then he opened wide the throttle of the quiet radium engine. He could feel the little craft shudder for an instant as it gained speed. The earthman pointed its nose upward and rose far above the battleground.
Then he nosed over and dove down. The wind whistled shrilly off the craft’s trim lines as its increased momentum sped it, comet-like, downward —straight toward the giant!
12.THE FATE OF A NATION
Neither Pew Mogel nor the giant Joog had yet seen the lone craft diving toward them from overhead. Pew Mogel, seated inside the armored howdah that was attached to Joog’s enormous helmet, was issuing attack orders to his troops by shortwave.
A strip of glass, about three feet wide, completely encircled the howdah, enabling Pew Mogel to obtain complete, unrestricted vision of his fighting forces below.
Perhaps if Pew Mogel had looked up through the circular glass skylight in the dome of his steel shelter, he would have seen the earthman’s speedy little craft streaking down on him from above.
John Carter was banking his life, that of the woman he loved and the survival of Helium upon the hope that Pew Mogel would not look up.
John Carter was driving his little craft with bullet speed— straight toward that circular opening on top of Pew Mogel’s sanctuary.
Joog was standing still now, shoulders hunched forward. Pew Mogel had ordered him to be quiet while he completed his last-minute command to his troops.
The giant was on the plain between the mountains and the city. Not until he was five hundred feet above the little round window did Carter pull back on the throttle.
He had gained his great height to avoid discovery by Pew Mogel. His speed was for the same purpose.