Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 20

I looked the ship over. From the ground it hadn’t a very promising appearance—just a disreputable, obsolete old hulk. Then I climbed the ladder and stepped to the deck of my new command; there was no boatswain’s call to pipe the side; there was only one man on watch; and he was curled up on the deck, fast asleep.

I walked over and poked him with the toe of a sandal. “Wake up, there!” I ordered.

He opened an eye and looked up at me; then he leaped to his feet. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here? What do you mean by kicking me in the ribs and waking me up?”

“One question at a time, my man,” I said. “I shall answer your first question, and that will answer the others also.” I held the order out to him.

As he took it, he said, “Don’t call me my man, you—” But he stopped there; he had read the order. He saluted and handed the order back to me, but I noticed just the suggestion of a grin on his face.

“Why did you smile?” I asked.

“I was thinking that you probably got the softest job in Hin Abtol’s navy,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“You won’t have anything to do; the Dusar is out of commission—she won’t fly.”

So! Perhaps Odwar Phor San was not as drunk as I had thought him.

 

CHAPTER VI

The deck of the Dusar was weatherbeaten and filthy; everything was in disorder, but what difference did that make if the ship wouldn’t fly?

“How many officers and men comprise her complement?” I asked.

The fellow grinned and pointed to himself. “One,” he said, “or, rather, two, now that you are here.”

I asked him his name, and he said that it was Fo-nar. In the United States he would have been known as an ordinary seaman, but the Martian words for seaman and sailor are now as obsolete as the oceans with which they died, almost from the memory of man. All sailors and soldiers are known as thans, which I have always translated as warriors.

“Well, Fo-nar,” I said; “let’s have a look at our ship. What’s wrong with her?

Why won’t she fly?”

“It’s the engine, sir,” he said; “it won’t start any more.”

“I’ll have a look over the ship,” I said, “and then we’ll see if we can’t do something about the engine.”

I took Fo-nar with me and went below. Everything there was filthy and in disorder. “How long has she been out of commission?” I asked.

“About a month.”

“You certainly couldn’t have made all this mess by yourself in a month,” I said.

“No, sir; she was always like this even when she was flying,” he said.

“Who commanded her? Whoever he was, he should be cashiered for permitting a ship to get in this condition.”

“He won’t ever be cashiered, sir,” said Fo-nar.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he got drunk and fell overboard on our last flight,” Fo-nar explained, with a grin.

I inspected the guns, there were eight of them, four on a side beside smaller bow and stern guns on deck; they all seemed to be in pretty fair condition, and there was plenty of ammunition. The bomb racks in the bilge were full, and there was a bomb trap forward and another aft.

There were quarters for twenty-five men and three officers, a good galley, and plenty of provisions. If I had not seen Odwar Phor San, I could not have understood why all this material—guns, ammunition, provisions, and tackle—should have been left on a ship permanently out of commission. The ship appeared to me to be about ten years old—that is, after a careful inspection; superficially, it looked a hundred.

I told Fo-nar to go back on deck and go to sleep, if he wished to; and then I went into the dwar’s cabin and lay down; I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, and I was tired. It was daylight when I awoke, and I found Fo-nar in the galley getting his breakfast. I told him to prepare mine, and after we had both eaten I went to have a look at the engine.

It hurt me to go through that ship and see the condition its drunken skipper had permitted it to get into. I love these Barsoomian fliers, and I have been in the navy of Helium for so many years that ships have acquired almost human personalities for me. I have designed them; I have superintended their construction; I have developed new ideas in equipment, engines, and armament; and several standard flying and navigating instruments are of my invention. If there is anything I don’t know about a modern Martian flier; then nobody else knows it.

I found tools and practically dismantled the engine, checking every part. While I was doing this, I had Fo-nar start cleaning up the ship. I told him to start with my cabin and then tackle the galley next. It would have taken one man a month or more to put the Dusar in even fair condition, but at least we would make a start.

I hadn’t been working on the engine half an hour before I found what was wrong with it—just dirt! Every feed line was clogged; and that marvellous, concentrated, Martian fuel could not reach the motor.

I was appalled by the evidence of such stupidity and inefficiency, though not entirely surprised; drunken commanders and Barsoomian fliers just don’t go together. In the navy of Helium, no officer drinks while on board ship or on duty; and not one of them drinks to excess at any time.

If an officer were ever drunk on board his ship, the crew would see to it that he was never drunk again; they know that their lives are in the hands of their officers, and they don’t purpose trusting them to a drunken man— they simply push the officer overboard. It is such a well established custom, or used to be before drinking on the part of officers practically ceased, that no action was ever taken against the warrior who took discipline into his own hands, even though the act were witnessed by officers. I rather surmised that this time honored custom had had something to do with the deplorable accident that had robbed the Dusar of her former commander.

The day was practically gone by the time I had cleaned every part of the engine thoroughly and reassembled it; then I started it; and the sweet, almost noiseless and vibrationless, hum of it was music to my ears. I had a ship—a ship that would fly!

One man can operate such a ship, but of course he can’t fight it. Where, however, could I get men? I didn’t want just any men; I wanted good fighting men who would just as lief fight against Hin Abtol as not.

Pondering this problem I went to my cabin to clean up; it looked spick-and-span.

Fo-nar had done a good job; he had also laid out the harness and metal of a dwar—doubtless the property of the late commander. Bathed and properly garbed, I felt like a new man as I stepped out onto the upper deck. Fo-nar snapped to attention and saluted.

“Fo-nar,” I said, “are you a Panar?”

“I should say not,” he replied with some asperity. “I am from Jahar originally, but now I have no country—I am a panthan.”

“You were there during the reign of Tul Axtar?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied; “it was on his account that I became an exile—I tried to kill him, and I got caught; I just barely escaped with my life. I cannot go back so long as he is alive.”

“You can go back, then,” I said; “Tul Axtar is dead.”

Tow do you know, sir?”

“I know the man who killed him.”

“Just my luck!” exclaimed Fo-nar; “now that I might go back, I can’t.”

“Why can’t you?”

“For the same reason, sir, that where ever you are from you’ll never go back, unless you are from Panar, which I doubt.”

“No, I am not from Panar,” I said; “but what makes you think I won’t go back to my own country?”

“Because no one upon whom Hin Abtol gets his hands ever escapes, other than through death.”

 

CHAPTER VII

“Oh, come, Fo-nar,” I said; “that is ridiculous. What is to prevent either one of us from deserting?”

“If we deserted here,” he replied, “we would immediately be picked up by the Gatholians and killed; after this campaign is over, we will not make a landing until we reach Panar; and from Panar there is no escape. Hin Abtol’s ships never stop at a friendly city, where one might find an opportunity to escape; for there are no cities friendly to Hin Abtol. He attacks every city that he believes he can take, sacks it, and flies away with all the loot he can gather and with as many prisoners as his ships will carry—mostly men; they say he has a million now, and that he plans eventually to conquer Helium and then all of Barsoom. He took me prisoner when he sacked Raxar on his way down from Panar to Gathol; I was serving there in the army of the jed.”

“You would like to return to Jahar?” I asked.

“Certainly,” he replied. “My mate is there, if she still lives; I have been gone twenty years.”

“You feel no loyalty toward Hin Abtol?”

“Absolutely none,” he replied; “why?”

“I think I can tell you. I have the same power that all Barsoomians have of being able to read the mind of another when he happens to be off guard; and a couple of times, Fo-nar, your subconscious mind has dropped its guard and permitted me to read your thoughts; I have learned several things about you. One is that you are constantly wondering about me—who I am and whether I am to be trusted. For another thing, I have learned that you despise the Panars. I also discovered that you were no common warrior in Jahar, but a dwar in the jeddak’s service—you were thinking about that when you first saw me in the metal and harness of a dwar.”

Fo-nar smiled. “You read well,” he said; “I must be more careful. You read much better than I do, or else you guard your thoughts more jealously than I; for I have not been able to obtain even the slightest inkling of what is passing in your mind.”

“No man has ever been able to read my mind,” I said, and that is very strange, too, and quite inexplicable. The Martians have developed mind reading to a point where it is a fine art, but none has ever been able to read my mind. Perhaps that is because it is the mind of an Earth man, and may account for the fact that telepathy has not advanced far on our planet.

“You are fortunate,” said Fo-nar; “but please go on and tell me what you started to.”

“Well,” I said, “in the first place, I have repaired the engine—the Dusar can now fly.”

“Good!” exclaimed Fo-nar. “I said you were no Panar; they are the stupidest people in the world. No Panar could ever have repaired it; all they can do is let things go to wrack and ruin. Go on.”

“Now we need a crew. Can we find from fifteen to twenty-five men whom we can trust and who can fight—men who will follow me anywhere I lead them to win their freedom from Hin Abtol?”

“I can find you all the men you need,” replied Fo-nar.

“Get busy then,” I said; “you are now First Padwar of the Dusar.”

“I am getting up in the world again,” said Fo-nar, laughing. “I’ll start out immediately, but don’t expect a miracle—it may take a little time to find the right men.”

“Have them report to the ship after dark, and tell them to be sure that no one sees them. What can we do about that sentry at the foot of the ladder?”

“The one who was on duty when you came aboard is all right,” said Fo-nar; “he’ll come with us. He’s on from the eighth to the ninth zodes, and I’ll tell the men to come at that time.”

“Good luck, padwar!” I said, as he went overside.

The remainder of the day dragged slowly. I spent some time in my cabin looking through the ship’s papers. Barsoomian ships keep a log just as Earth ships do, and I occupied several hours looking through the log of the Dusar. The ship had been captured four years before while on a scientific expedition to the Arctic, since then, under Panar commanders, the log had been very poorly kept. Some times there were no entries for a week, and those that were made were unprofessional and sloppy; the more I learned about the Panars the less I liked them—and to think that the creature who ruled them aspired to conquer a world!

About the end of the seventh zode Fo-nar returned. “I had much better luck than I anticipated,” he said; “every man I approached knew three or four he could vouch for; so it didn’t take long to get twenty-five. I think, too, that I have just the man for Second Padwar. He was a padwar in the army of Helium, and has served on many of her ships.”

“What is his name?” I asked. I have known many men from Helium.”

“He is Tan Hadron of Hastor,” replied Fo-nar.