This was insubordination verging on mutiny. In a well disciplined navy, it would have been a very simple thing to handle; but here, where there was no higher authority than I, I had to take a very different course from a commander with a powerful government behind him. I stepped up to the man and slapped him as I had slapped Kor-an; and, like Kor-an, he went down.
“You’re flying wherever I fly you,” I said; “I’ll have no insubordination on this ship.”
He leaped to his feet and whipped out his sword, and there was nothing for me to do but draw also.
“The penalty for this, you understand, is death,” I said, “—unless you sheathe your sword immediately.”
“I’ll sheathe it in your belly, you calot!” he cried, making a terrific lunge at me, which I parried easily and then ran him through the right shoulder. I knew that I would have to kill him, for the discipline of the ship and perhaps the fate of Llana of Gathol might hinge on this question of my supremacy and my authority; but first I must give an exhibition of swordplay that would definitely assure the other members of the crew that the lethal thrust was no accident, as they might have thought had I killed him at once.
So I played with him as a cat plays with a mouse, until the other members of the crew, who had stood silent and scowling at first, commenced to ridicule him.
“I thought you were going to sheathe your sword in his belly,” taunted one.
“Why don’t you kill him, Gan-ho?” demanded another. “I thought you were such a great swordsman.”
“I can tell you one thing,” said a third: “you are not going to fly to Pankor, or anywhere else. Goodby, Gan-ho! you are dead.”
Just to show the other men how easily I could do it, I disarmed Gan-ho, sending his blade rattling across the deck. He stood for a moment glaring at me like a mad beast; then he turned and ran across the deck and dove over the rail. I was glad that I did not have to kill him.
I turned to the men gathered before me. “Is there any other who will not fly to Pankor?” I asked, and waited for a reply.
Several of them grinned sheepishly; and there was much scuffing of sandals on the deck, but no one replied.
“I had you mustered here to tell where we were flying and why; also that Fo-nar is First Padwar, Tan Hadron is Second Padwar, and I am your Dwar—we are to be obeyed. Return to your stations.”
Shortly after the men dispersed, Phor San and his satellite appeared on deck; they were both drunk. Phor San came toward me and stopped in front of me waving an erratic finger at me. He stunk of the liquor he had been drinking.
“In the name of Hin Abtol, Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North,” he declaimed, “I order you to turn over the command of this ship to me, or suffer the full consequences of your crime of mutiny.”
I saw the men on deck eyeing the two banefully. “You’d better go below,” I said; “you might fall overboard.”
Phor San turned to some of the crew members. “I am Odwar Phor San,” he announced, “commander of the fleet; put this man in irons and return the ship to the air field!”
“I think you have gone far enough, Phor San,” I said; “if you continue, I shall have to assume that you are attempting to incite my crew to mutiny, and act accordingly. Go below!”
“You trying to give me orders on one of my ships?” he demanded. “I’ll have you understand that I am Phor San—”
“Commander of the fleet,” I finished for him, “Here,” I said to a couple of warriors standing near, “take these two below, and if they don’t behave themselves, tie them up.”
Fuming and blustering, Phor San was dragged below. His companion went quietly; I guess he knew what was good for him.
The one ship was still hanging onto our tail and not gaining perceptibly, but there were two just behind her which were overhauling both of us.
“That doesn’t look so good,” I said to Tan Hadron, who was standing at my side.
“Let’s show them something,” he said.
“What, for instance?” I asked.
“Do you remember that maneuver of yours the last time Helium was attacked by an enemy fleet, where you got the flag ship and two other ships that thought you were running from them?”
“All right,” I said, “we’ll try it.” Then I sent for Fo-nar and gave him full instructions. While we were talking, I heard a series of piercing screams, gradually diminishing in the distance; but my mind was so occupied with this other matter, that I scarcely gave them a thought. Presently I got an “all’s ready” report from Fo-nar, and told Tan Hadron to go ahead with the maneuver.
The Dusar was going full speed ahead against a strong head wind, and when he brought her about she sped toward the oncoming ships like a racing thoat. Two of them were in position to open up on us when we came within range; however, they commenced firing too soon. We quite properly held our fire until it was effective. We were all firing our bow guns—the only ones that could be brought to bear; and no one was doing much damage.
As we drew closer to the leading ship, I saw considerable confusion on her deck; I imagine they thought we were going to ram them. Just then our gunner succeeded in putting her bow gun out of commission, which was fortunate indeed for us; then Tan Hadron elevated the Dusar’s nose, and we rose above the leading ship.
As we passed over her, there was a terrific explosion on her deck and she burst into flame. Tan Hadron turned to port so fast that the Dusar lay over on her side, and we on deck had to hang to anything we could get hold of to keep from going overboard; by this maneuver, he crossed over the second ship; and the bombers in the bilge of the Dusar dropped a heavy bomb on her deck. With the detonation of the bomb, she turned completely over, and then plummeted toward the ground, four thousand feet below. The explosion must have burst all her buoyancy tanks.
Only one ship now remained in our immediate vicinity; and as we made for her, she turned tail and ran, followed by the cheers of our men. We now resumed our course toward the north, the enemy having abandoned the chase.
The first ship was still burning, and I directed Tan Hadron to approach her to learn if any of the crew remained alive. As we came closer, I saw that she was hanging bow down, the whole after part of the ship being in flames. The bow was not burning, and I saw a number of men clinging to holds upon the tilted deck.
My bow gunner thought that I was going to finish them off, and trained his piece on them; but I stopped him just in time; then I hailed them. “Can you get at your boarding harness?” I shouted.
“Yes,” came back the answer.
“I’ll pull in below you and take you off,” I called, and in about fifteen minutes we had taken off the five survivors one of which was a Panar padwar.
They were surprised that I hadn’t either finished them off when I had them at such a disadvantage, or let them hang there and burn. The padwar was sure that we had some ulterior motive in taking them off the burning ship, and asked me how I intended to have them killed.
“I don’t intend to kill you at all,” I said, “unless I have to.”
My own men were quite as surprised as the prisoners; but I heard one of them say, “The Dwar’s been in the Helium navy—they don’t kill prisoners of war in Helium.” Well, they don’t kill them in all Martian countries, except that most do kill their prisoners if they find it difficult or impossible to take them home into slavery without endangering their own ships.
“What are you going to do with us?” asked the padwar.
“I’ll either land as soon as it is convenient, and set you free; or I’ll let you enlist and come with us. You must understand, however, that I am at war with Hin Abtol.”
All five decided to cast their lot with us, and I turned them over to Fo-nar to assign them to watches and prescribe their duties. My men were gathered amidships discussing the engagement; they were as proud as peacocks.
“We destroyed two ships and put a third to flight without suffering a casualty,” one was saying.
“That’s the kind of a Dwar to fly under,” said another. “I knew he was all right when I saw him handle Gan-ho. I tell you there’s a man to fight for.”
After overhearing this conversation and a lot more like it, I felt much more assured as to the possible success of the venture, for with a disloyal crew anything may happen except success.
A little later, as I was crossing the deck, I saw one of the warriors who had taken Phor San and his companion below; and I hailed him and asked him if the prisoners were all right.
“I am sorry to report, sir,” he said, “that they both fell overboard.”
“How could they fall overboard when they were below?” I demanded.
“They fell through the after bomb trap, sir,” he said, without cracking a smile.
Naturally I was a little suspicious of the dependability of Gor-don, the Panar padwar we had taken off the disabled Panar ship. He was the only Panar aboard the Dusar, and the only person aboard who might conceivably owe any allegiance to Hin Abtol. I cautioned Fo-nar and Tan Hadron to keep an eye on the fellow, although I really couldn’t imagine how he could harm us.
As we approached the North Polar region, it was necessary to issue the warm fur clothing which the Dusar carried in her stores—the white fur of Apts for the warriors, and the black and yellow striped fur of orluks for the three officers; and to issue additional sleeping furs to all.
I was quite restless that night with a perfectly baseless premonition of impending disaster, and about the 9th zode (1:12 A.M. E.T.) I arose and went on deck. Fo-nar was at the wheel, for as yet I didn’t know any of the common warriors of the crew well enough to trust them with this important duty.
There was a group of men amidships, whispering among themselves. As they were not members of the watch, they had no business there at that time of night; and I was walking toward them to order them below, when I saw three men scuffling farther aft. This infraction of discipline requiring more immediate attention than the gathering on the deck, I walked quickly toward the three men, arriving just as two of them were about to hurl the third over the rail.
I seized the two by their collars and dragged them back; they dropped their victim and turned on me; but when they recognized me, they hesitated.
“The Panar was falling overboard,” said one of the men, rather impudently.
Sure enough, the third man was Gor-don, the Panar. He had had a mighty close call. “Go below, to my cabin,” I told him; “I will talk with you there later.”
“He won’t talk too much, if he knows what’s good for him,” one of the men who had tried to throw him overboard shouted after him as he walked away.
“What is the meaning of this?” I demanded of the two men, whom I recognized as assassins.
“It means that we don’t want any Panars aboard this ship,” replied one.
“Go to your quarters,” I ordered; “I’ll attend to you later.” It was my intention to immediately have them put in irons.
They hesitated; one of them moved closer to me. There is only one way to handle a situation like that—be first. I swung a right to the fellow’s chin, and as he went down I whipped out my sword and faced them.
“I’ll run you both through if you lay a hand on a weapon,” I told them, and they knew that I meant it. I made them stand against the rail then, with their backs toward me, and disarmed them. “Now go below,” I said.
As they walked away, I saw the men in the group amid ships watching us, and as I approached them they moved away and went below before I could order them to do so. I went forward and told Fo-nar of what had happened, cautioning him to be constantly on the lookout for trouble.
“I am going below to talk to Panar,” I said; “I have an idea that there was more to this than just the wish to throw him overboard; then I’ll have a talk with some of the men. I’m going to rouse Tan Hadron first and instruct him to have those two assassins put in irons at once. I’ll be back on deck shortly; the three of us will have to keep a close watch from now on. Those men weren’t on deck at this hour in the night just to get fresh air.”
I went below then and awakened Tan Hadron, telling him what had occurred on deck and ordering him to take a detail of men and put the two assassins in irons; after that, I went to my cabin. Gor-don arose from a bench and saluted as I entered.
“May I thank you, sir,” he said, “for saving my life.”
“Was it because you are a Panar that they were going to throw you overboard?” I asked.
“No, sir, it was not,” he replied. “The men are planning to take over the ship—they are afraid to go to Pankor—and they tried to get me to join with them, as none of them can navigate a ship and I can; they intended killing you and the two padwars. I refused to join them, and tried to dissuade them; then they became afraid that I would report their plans to you, as I intended doing; so they were going to throw me overboard. You saved my life, sir, when you took me off that burning ship; and I am glad to offer it in the defense of yours—and you’re going to need all the defense you can get; the men are determined to take over the ship, though they are divided on the question of killing you.”