Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 15

We passed on up the ramp to the level above, and there Hamas, knocked on the door of Fal Sivas’s apartment.

For a moment there was no answer; and I was about to enter the room when I heard Fal Sivas’s voice demand querulously, “Who’s there?”

“It is Hamas,” replied the major-domo, “and the man, Vandor, who has returned.”

“Send him in, send him in,” directed Fal Sivas.

As Hamas opened the door, I brushed past him and, turning, pushed him out into the corridor. “He said, ‘Send him in,'” I said. Then I closed the door in his face.

Fal Sivas had evidently come out of one of the other rooms of his suite in answer to our knock, for he stood now facing me with his hand still on the latch of a door in the opposite wall of the room, an angry frown contracting his brows.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

Naturally, I have not been accustomed to being spoken to in the manner that Fal Sivas had adopted; and I did not relish it. I am a fighting man, not an actor; and, for a moment, I had a little difficulty in remembering that I was playing a part.

I did even go so far as to take a couple of steps toward Fal Sivas with the intention of taking him by the scruff of the neck and shaking some manners into him, but I caught myself in time; and as I paused, I could not but smile.

“Why don’t you answer me?” cried Fal Sivas, “You are laughing; do you dare to laugh at me?”

“Why shouldn’t I laugh at my own stupidity?” I demanded.

“Your own stupidity? I do not understand. What do you mean?”

“I took you for an intelligent man, Fal Sivas; and now I find that I was mistaken. It makes me smile.”

I thought he was going to explode, but he managed to control himself. “Just what do you mean by that?” he demanded angrily.

“I mean that no intelligent man would speak to a lieutenant in the tone of voice in which you have just addressed me, no matter what he suspected, until he had thoroughly investigated. You have probably been listening to Hamas during my absence; so I am naturally condemned without a hearing.”

He blinked at me for a moment and then said in a slightly more civil voice, “Well, go ahead, explain where you have been and what you have been doing.”

“I have been investigating some of Ur Jan’s activities,” I replied, “but I have no time now to go into an explanation of that. The important thing for me to do now is to go to Gar Nal’s hangar, and I do not know where it is. I have come here to you for that information.”

“Why do you want to go to Gar Nal’s hangar?” he demanded.

“Because I have word that Gar Nal’s ship has left Zodanga on a mission in which both he And Ur Jan are connected.”

This information threw Fal Sivas into a state of excitement bordering on apoplexy. “The calot!” he exclaimed, “the thief, the scoundrel; he has stolen all my ideas and now he has launched his ship ahead of mine.”

“Calm yourself, Fal Sivas,” I urged him. “We do not know yet that Gar Nal’s ship has sailed. Tell me where he was building it, and I will go and investigate.”

“Yes, yes,” he exclaimed, “at once; but Vandor, do you know where Gar Nal was going? Did you find that out?”

“To Thuria, I believe,” I replied.

Now, indeed, was Fal Sivas convulsed with rage. By comparison with this, his first outburst appeared almost like enthusiastic approval of his competitor for inventive laurels. He called Gar Nal every foul thing he could lay his tongue to and all his ancestors back to the original tree of life from which all animate things on Mars are supposed to have sprung.

“He is going to Thuria after the treasure!” he screamed in conclusion. “He has even stolen that idea from me.”

“This is no time for lamentation, Fal Sivas,” I snapped. “We are getting no place. Tell me where Gar Nal’s hangar is, so that we may know definitely whether or not he has sailed.”

With an effort, he gained control of himself; and then he gave me minute directions for finding Gar Nal’s hangar, and even told me how I might gain entrance to it, revealing a familiarity with his enemy’s stronghold which indicated that his own spies had not been idle.

As Fal Sivas concluded his directions, I thought that I heard sounds coming from the room behind him—muffled sounds—a gasp, a sob, perhaps. I could not tell.

The sounds were faint; they might have been almost anything; and now Fal Sivas crossed the room toward me and ushered me out into the corridor, a little hurriedly, I thought; but that may have been my imagination. I wondered if he, too, had heard the sounds.

“You had better go, now,” he said; “and when you have discovered the truth, return at once and report to me.”

On my way from the quarters of Fal Sivas, I stopped at my own to speak to Zanda; but she was not there, and I continued on to the little doorway through which I came and went from the house of Fal Sivas.

Hamas was there in the anteroom. He looked disappointed when he saw me. “You are going out?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you returning again tonight?”

“I expect to,” I replied; “and by the way, Hamas, where is Zanda? She was not in my quarters when I stopped in.”

“We thought you were not returning,” explained the major-domo, “and Fal Sivas found other duties for Zanda. Tomorrow I shall have Phystal give you another slave.”

“I want Zanda again,” I said. “She performs her duties satisfactorily, and I prefer her.”

“That is something you will have to discuss with Fal Sivas,” he replied.

I passed out then into the night and gave the matter no further thought, my mind being occupied with far more important considerations.

My way led past the public house where I had left Jat Or and on into another quarter of the city. Here, without difficulty, I located the building that Fal Sivas had described.

At one side of it was a dark narrow alley. I entered this and groped my way to the far end, where I found a low wall, as Fal Sivas had explained that I would.

I paused there a moment and listened intently, but no sound came from the interior of the building. Then I vaulted easily to the top of the wall, and from there to the roof of a low annex. Across this roof appeared the end of the hangar in which Gar Nal had built his ship. I recognized it for what it was by the great doors set in the wall.

Fal Sivas had told me that through the crack between the two doors, I could see the interior of the hangar and quickly determine if the ship were still there.

But there was no light within; the hangar was completely dark, and I could see nothing as I glued an eye to the crack.

I attempted to move the doors, but they were securely locked. Then I moved cautiously along the wall in search of another opening.

About forty feet to the right of the doors, I discovered a small window some ten feet above the roof upon which I was standing. I sprang up to it and grasped the sill with my fingers and drew myself up in the hope that I might be able to see something from this vantage point.

To my surprise and delight, I found the window open. All was quiet inside the hangar—quiet and as dark as Erebus.

Sitting on the sill, I swung my legs through the window, turned over on my belly, and lowered myself into the interior of the hangar; then I let go of the sill and dropped.

Such a maneuver, naturally, is fraught with danger, as one never knows upon what he may alight.

I alighted upon a moveable bench, loaded with metal parts and tools. My weight upset it, and it crashed to the floor with a terrific din.

Scrambling to my feet, I stood there in the darkness waiting, listening. If there were anyone anywhere in the building, large as it appeared to be, it seemed unlikely that the racket I had made could pass unnoticed, nor did it.

Presently I heard footsteps. They seemed at a considerable distance, but they approached rapidly at first and then more slowly. Whoever was coming appeared to grow more cautious as he neared the hangar.

Presently a door at the far end was thrown open, and I saw two armed men silhouetted against the light of the room beyond.

It was not a very brilliant light that came from the adjoining chamber, but it was sufficient to partially dispel the gloom of the cavernous interior of the hangar and reveal the fact that there was no ship here. Gar Nal had sailed!

I had evidently been hoping against hope, for the discovery stunned me. Gar Nal was gone; and, unquestionably, Dejah Thoris was with him.

The two men were advancing cautiously into the hangar. “Do you see anyone?” I heard the man in the rear demand.

“No,” replied the leader, and then, in a loud voice, “who is here?”

The floor of the hangar had a most untidy appearance. Barrels, crates, carboys, tools, parts—a thousand and one things—were scattered indiscriminately about it. Perhaps this was fortunate for me; as, among so many things, it would be difficult to discover me as long as I did not move, unless the men stumbled directly upon me.

I was kneeling in the shadow of a large box, planning upon my next move in the event that I was discovered.

The two men came slowly along the center of the room. They came opposite my hiding-place. They passed me. I glanced at the open door through which they had come. There seemed to be no one there. Evidently these two men had been on guard; and they, alone, had heard the noise that I had made.

Suddenly a plan flashed to my mind. I stepped out of my hiding-place and stood between them and the open door through which they had entered.

I had moved quietly, and they had not heard me. Then I spoke.

“Do not move,” I said, “and you will be safe.”

They stopped as though they had been shot, and wheeled about.

“Stand where you are,” I commanded.

“Who are you?” asked one of the men.

“Never mind who I am. Answer my questions, and no harm will befall you.”

Suddenly one of the men laughed. “No harm will befall us,” he said. “You are alone, and we are two. Come!” he whispered to his companion; and drawing their swords, the two rushed upon me.

I backed away from them, my own sword ready to parry their thrusts and cuts.

“Wait!” I cried. “I do not want to kill you. Listen to me. I only want some information from you, and then I will go.”

“Oh, ho! He does not want to kill us,” shouted one of the men. “Come now,” he directed his fellow, “get on his left side, and I will take him on the right. So he does not want to kill us, eh?”

Sometimes I feel that I am entitled to very little credit for my countless successes in mortal combat. Always, it seems to me, and it certainly must appear even more so to my opponents, my flashing blade is a living thing inspired to its marvellous feats by a power beyond that of mortal man. It was so tonight.

As the two men charged me from opposite sides, my steel flashed so rapidly in parries, cuts, and thrusts that I am confident that the eyes of my opponents could not follow it.

The first man went down with a cloven skull the instant that he came within reach of my blade, and almost in the same second I ran his companion through the shoulder. Then I stepped back.

His sword arm was useless; it hung limp at his side. He could not escape. I was between him and the door; and he stood there, waiting for me to run him through the heart.

“I have no desire to kill you,” I told him. “Answer my questions truthfully, and I will let you live.”

“Who are you, and what do you want to know?” he growled.

“Never mind who I am. Answer my questions, and see that you answer them truthfully. When did Gar Nal’s ship sail?”

“Two nights ago.”

“Who was on board?”

“Gar Nal and Ur Jan.”

“No one else?” I demanded.

“No,” he replied.

“Where were they going?”