Tan Hadron of Hastor! Why, he was one of my finest officers. What ill luck could have brought him to the navy of Hin Abtol?
“Tan Hadron of Hastor,” I said aloud; “the name sounds a little familiar; it is possible that I knew him.” I did not wish anyone to know that I was John Carter, Prince of Helium; for if it became known, and I was captured, Hin Abtol could have wrested an enormous ransom from Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium and grandfather of my mate, Dejah Thoris.
Immediately after the eighth zode, warriors commenced to come aboard the Dusar.
I had instructed Fo-nar to immediately send them below to their quarters, for I feared that too much life on the deck of the Dusar might attract attention; I had also told him to send Tan Hadron to my cabin as soon as he came aboard.
About half after the eighth zode someone scratched on my door; and when I bade him enter, Tan Hadron stepped into the cabin. My red skin and Panar harness deceived him, and he did not recognize me.
“I am Tan Hadron of Hastor,” he said; “Padwar Fo-nar instructed me to report to you.”
“You are not a Panar?” I asked.
He stiffened. “I am a Heliumite from the city of Hastor,” he said, proudly.
“Where is Hastor?” I asked.
He looked surprised at such ignorance. “It lies directly south of Greater Helium sir; about five hundred haads. You will pardon me,” he added, “but I understood from Padwar Fo-nar that you knew many men from Helium, and so I imagined that you had visited the empire; in fact he gave me to understand that you had served in our navy.”
“That is neither here nor there,” I said. “Fo-nar has recommended you for the post of Second Padwar aboard the Dusar. You will have to serve me faithfully and follow where ever I lead; your reward will consist of your freedom from Hin Abtol.”
I could see that he was a little bit skeptical about the whole proposition now that he had met me—a man who had never heard of Hastor couldn’t amount to much; but he touched the hilt of his sword and said that he would follow me loyally.
“Is that all, sir?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said; “for the time being. After the men are all aboard I shall have them mustered below deck, and at that time I shall name the officers; please be there.”
He saluted, and turned to go.
“Oh, by the way,” I called to him, “how is Tavia?”
At that he wheeled about as though he had been shot, and his eyes went wide.
“What do you know of Tavia, sir?” he demanded. Tavia is his mate.
“I know that she is a very lovely girl, and that I can’t understand why you are not back in Hastor with her; or are you stationed in Helium now?”
He came a little closer, and looked at me intently. As a matter of fact, the light was not very good in my cabin, or he would have recognized me sooner.
Finally his jaw dropped, and then he unbuckled his sword and threw it at my feet. “John Carter!” he exclaimed.
“Not so loud, Hadron,” I cautioned; “no one here knows who I am; and no one must, but you.”
“You had a good time with me, didn’t you, sir?” he laughed.
“It has been some time since I have had anything to laugh about,” I said; “so I hope you will forgive me; now tell me about yourself and how you got into this predicament.”
“Perhaps half the navy of Helium is looking for Llana of Gathol and you,” he said. “Rumors of the whereabouts of one or the other of you have come from all parts of Barsoom. Like many another officer I was scouting for you or Llana in a one man flier. I had bad luck, sir; and here I am. One of Hin Abtol’s ships shot me down, and then landed and captured me.”
“Llana of Gathol and I, with two companions, were also shot down by one of Hin Abtol’s ships,” I told him. “While I was searching for food, they were captured, presumably by some of Hin Abtol’s warriors, as we landed behind their lines. We must try to ascertain, if possible, where Llana is; then we can plan intelligently. Possibly some of our recruits may have information; see what you can find out.”
He saluted and left my cabin. It was good to know that I had such a man as Tan Hadron of Hastor as one of my lieutenants.
Shortly after Tan Hadron left my cabin, Fo-nar entered to report that all but one of the recruits had reported and that he had the men putting the flier in shipshape condition. He seemed a little bit worried about something, and I asked him what it was.
“It’s about this warrior who hasn’t reported,” he replied. “The man who persuaded him to join up is worried, too. He said he hadn’t known him long, but since he came aboard the Dusar he’s met a couple of men who know the fellow well; and they say he’s an ulsio.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” I said. “If this man talks and arouses suspicion, we may have to take off in a hurry. Have you assigned each man to his station?”
“Tan Hadron is doing that now,” he replied. “I think we have found a splendid officer in that man.”
“I am sure of it,” I agreed. “Be sure that four men are detailed to cut the cables instantly, if it becomes necessary for us to make a quick getaway.”
When on the ground, the larger Martian fliers are moored to four deadmen, one on either side at the bow and one on either side at the stern. Unless a ship is to return to the same anchorage, these deadmen are dug up and taken aboard before she takes off. In the event of forced departure, such as I anticipated might be necessary in our case, the cables attached to the deadmen are often cut.
Fo-nar hadn’t been gone from my cabin five minutes before he came hurrying in again. “I guess we’re in for it, sir,” he said; “Odwar Phor San is coming aboard! That missing recruit is with him; he must have reported all he knew to Phor San.”
“When the odwar comes aboard, bring him down to my cabin; and then order the men to their stations; see that the four men you have detailed for that duty stand by the mooring cables with axes; ask Tan Hadron to start the engine and stand by to take off; post a man outside my cabin door to pass the word to take off when I give the signal; I’ll clap my hands twice.”
Fo-nar was gone only a couple of minutes before he returned. “He won’t come below,” he reported; “he’s storming around up there like a mad thoat, demanding to have the man brought on deck who gave orders to recruit a crew for the Dusar.”
“Is Tan Hadron at the controls ready to start the engine?” I asked.
“He is,” replied Fo-nar.
“He will start them, then, as soon as I come on deck; at the same time post your men at the mooring cables; tell them what the signal will be.”
I waited a couple of minutes after Fo-nar had left; then I went on deck. Phor San was stamping up and down, evidently in a terrible rage; he was also a little drunk.
I walked up to him and saluted. “Did you send for me, sir?” I asked.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Dwar commanding the Dusar, sir,” I replied.
“Who said so?” he yelled. “Who assigned you to this ship? Who assigned you to any ship?”
“You did, sir.”
“I?” he screamed. “I never saw you before. You are under arrest. Arrest him!” He turned to a warrior at his elbow—my missing recruit, as I suspected—and started to speak to him again.
“Wait a minute,” I said; “look at this; here’s a written order over your own signature assigning me to the command of the Dusar.” I held the order up where he could read it in the bright light of Mars’ two moons.
He looked surprised and a little crestfallen for just a moment; then he blustered, “It’s a forgery! Anyway, it didn’t give you authority to recruit warriors for the ship.” He was weakening.
“What good is a fighting ship without warriors?” I demanded.
“You don’t need warriors on a ship that won’t fly, you idiot,” he came back.
“You thought you were pretty cute, getting me to sign that order; but I was a little cuter—I knew the Dusar wouldn’t fly.”
“Well, then, why all the fuss, sir?” I asked.
“Because you’re plotting something; I don’t know what, but I’m going to find out—getting men aboard this ship secretly at night! I rescind that order, and I place you under arrest.”
I had hoped to get him off the ship peaceably, for I wanted to make sure of Llana’s whereabouts before taking off. One man had told me that he had heard that she was on a ship bound for Pankor, but that was not definite. I also wished to know if Hin Abtol was with her.
“Very well, Phor San,” I said; “now let me tell you something. I am in command of this ship, and I intend to stay in command. I’ll give you and this rat here three seconds to get over the side, for the Dusar will take off in three seconds,” and then I clapped my hands twice.
Phor San laughed a sneering laugh. “I told you it wouldn’t fly,” he said; “now come along! If you won’t come quietly, you’ll be taken;” he pointed overside. I looked, and saw a strong detachment of warriors marching toward the Dusar; at the same time, the Dusar rose from the ground.
Phor San stood in front of me, gloating. “What are you going to do now?” he demanded.
“Take you for a little ride, Phor San,” I replied, and pointed overside.
He took one look, and then ran to the rail. His warriors were looking up at him in futile bewilderment. Phor San shouted to the padwar commanding them, “Order the Okar to pursue and take this ship!” The Okar was his flagship.
“Perhaps you’d like to come down to my cabin and have a little drink,” I suggested, the liquor of the former commander being still there. “You go with him,” I ordered the recruit who had betrayed us; “you will find liquor in one of the cabinets;” then I went to the bridge. On the way, I sent a warrior to summon Fo-nar. I told Tan Hadron to circle above the line of ships; and when Fo-nar reported, I gave him his orders, and he went below.
“We can’t let them take to the air,” I told Tan Hadron; “this is not a fast ship, and if several of them overhauled us we wouldn’t have a chance.”
Following my orders, Tan Hadron flew low toward the first ship on the line; it was the Okar, and she was about to take off. I signaled down to Fo-nar, and an instant later there was a terrific explosion aboard the Okar – our first bomb had made a clean hit! Slowly we moved down the line, dropping our bombs; but before we had reached the middle of it, ships at the lower end were taking off and projectiles were bursting around us from the ground batteries.
“It’s time we got out of here,” I said to Tan Hadron. He opened the throttle wide then, and the Dusar rose rapidly in a zig zag course.
Our own guns were answering the ground batteries, and evidently very effectively, for we were not hit once. I felt that we had come out of the affair so far very fortunately. We hadn’t disabled as many ships as I had hoped that we I might, and there were already several in the air which would doubtless pursue us; I could see one ship on our tail already, but she was out of range and apparently not gaining on us rapidly, if at all.
I told Tan Hadron to set his course due North, and then I sent for Fo-nar and told him to muster all hands on deck; I wanted a chance to look over my crew and explain what our expedition involved. There was time for this now, while no ships were within range of us, which might not be true in a short time.
The men came piling up from below and from their stations on deck. They were, for the most part, a hardbitten lot, veterans, I should say, of many a campaign.
As I looked them over I could see that they were sizing me up; they were probably wondering more about me than I was about them, for I was quite sure what they would do if they thought they could get the upper hand of me—I’d “fall” overboard, and they would take over the ship, then they’d quarrel among themselves as to what they would do with it and where they would fly it; in the end, half a dozen of the hardiest would survive, make for the nearest city, sell the Dusar, and have a wild orgy—if they didn’t wreck her before.
I asked each man his name and his past experience; there were, among the twenty-three, eleven panthans and twelve assassins; and they had fought all over the world. Seven of the panthans were from Helium, or had served in the Helium navy. I knew that these men were accustomed to discipline. The assassins were from various cities, scattered all over Barsoom. I didn’t need to ask them, to be quite sure that each had incurred the wrath of his Guild and been forced to flee in order to escape assassination himself; they were a tough lot.
“We are flying to Pankor,” I told them, “in search of the daughter of the jed of Gathol, who has been abducted by Hin Abtol. There may be a great deal of fighting before we get her; if we succeed and live, we will fly to Helium; there I shall turn the ship over to you, and you can do what you please with it.”
“You’re not flying me to Pankor,” said one of the assassins; “I’ve been there for twenty-five years, and I’m not going back.”