Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 16

“How should I know?”

“It will be well for you, if you do know. Come now, where were they going; and who were they taking with them?”

“They were going to meet another ship somewhere near Helium, and there they were going to take aboard someone whose name I never heard mentioned.”

“Were they kidnaping someone for ransom?” I demanded.

He nodded. “I guess that was it,” he said.

“And you don’t know who it was?”

“No.”

“Where are they going to hide this person they are kidnaping?”

“Some place where no one will ever find her,” he said.

“Where is that?”

“I heard Gar Nal say he was going to Thuria.”

I had gained about all the information that this man could give me that would be of any value; so I made him lead me to a small door that opened onto the roof from which I had gained entrance to the hangar. I stepped out and waited until he had closed the door; then I crossed the roof and dropped to the top of the wall below, and from there into the alleyway.

As I made my way toward the house of Fal Sivas, I planned rapidly. I realized that I must take desperate chances, and that whatever the outcome of my adventure, its success or failure rested wholly upon my own shoulders.

I stopped at the public house where I had left Jat Or, and found him anxiously awaiting my return.

The place was now so filled with guests that we could not talk with privacy, and so I took him with me over to the eating-place that Rapas and I had frequented.

Here we found a table, and I narrated to him all that had occurred since I had left him after our arrival in Zodanga.

“And now,” I said, “tonight I hope that we may start for Thuria. When we separate here, go at once to the hangar and take out the flier. Keep an eye out for patrol boats; and if you succeed in leaving the city, go directly west on the thirtieth parallel for one hundred haads. Wait for me there. If I do not come in two days, you are free to act as you wish.”

 

XII. — “WE BOTH MUST DIE!”

Thuria! She had always intrigued my imagination; and now as I saw her swinging low through the sky above me, as Jat Or and I separated on the avenue in front of the eating-place, she dominated my entire being.

Somewhere between that blazing orb and Mars, a strange ship was bearing my lost love to some unknown fate.

How hopeless her situation must appear to her, who could not guess that any who loved her were even vaguely aware of her situation or whither her abductors were taking her. It was quite possible that she, herself, did not know. How I wished that I might transmit a message of hope to her.

With such thoughts was my mind occupied as I made my way in the direction of the house of Fal Sivas; but even though I was thus engrossed, my faculties, habituated to long years of danger, were fully alert, so that sounds of footsteps emerging from an avenue I had just crossed did not pass unnoticed.

Presently, I was aware that they had turned into the avenue that I was traversing and were following behind me, but I gave no outward indication that I heard them until it became evident that they were rapidly overtaking me.

I swung around then, my hand upon the hilt of my sword; and as I did so, the man who was following addressed me.

“I thought it was you,” he said, “but I was not certain.”

“It is I, Rapas,” I replied.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I have been looking for you for the past two days.”

“Yes?” I inquired. “What do you want of me? You will have to be quick, Rapas; I am in a hurry.”

He hesitated. I could see that he was nervous. He acted as though he had something to say, but did not know how to begin, or else was afraid to broach the subject.

“Well, you see,” he commenced, lamely, “we haven’t seen each other for several days, and I just wanted to have a visit with you—just gossip a little, you know. Let’s go back and have a bite to eat.”

“I have just eaten,” I replied.

“How is old Fal Sivas?” he asked. “Do you know anything new?”

“Not a thing,” I lied. “Do you?”

“Oh, just gossip,” he replied. “They say that Ur Jan has kidnaped the Princess of Helium.” I could see him looking at me narrowly for my reaction.

“Is that so?” I inquired. “I should hate to be in Ur Jan’s shoes when the men of Helium lay hold of him.”

“They won’t lay hold of him,” said Rapas. “He has taken her where they will never find her.”

“I hope that he gets all that is coming to him, if he harms her,” I said; “and he probably will.” Then I turned as though to move away.

“Ur Jan won’t harm her, if the ransom is paid,” said Rapas.

“Ransom?” I inquired. “And what do they consider the Princess of Helium worth to the men of Helium?”

“Ur Jan is letting them off easy,” volunteered Rapas. “He is asking only two shiploads of treasure—all the gold and platinum and jewels that two great ships will carry.”

“Have they notified her people of their demand?” I asked.

“A friend of mine knows a man who is acquainted with one of Ur Jan’s assassins,” explained Rapas; “communication with the assassins could be opened up in this way.”

So he had finally gotten it out of his system. I could have laughed if I had not been so worried about Dejah Thoris. The situation was self-evident. Ur Jan and Rapas were both confident that I was either John Carter or one of his agents, and Rapas had been delegated to act as intermediary between the kidnapers and myself.

“It is all very interesting,” I said; “but, of course, it is nothing to me. I must be getting along. May you sleep well, Rapas.”

I venture to say that I left The Rat in a quandary as I turned on my heel and continued on my way toward the house of Fal Sivas. I imagine that he was not so sure as he had been that I was John Carter or even that I was an agent of the Warlord; for certainly either one or the other should have evinced more interest in his information than I had.

Of course, he had told me nothing that I did not already know; and therefore there had been nothing to induce within me either surprise or excitement.

Perhaps it would have made no difference either one way or the other had Rapas known that I was John Carter; but it pleased me, in combating the activities of such men, to keep them mystified and always to know a little more than they did.

Again Hamas admitted me when I reached the gloomy pile that Fal Sivas inhabited; and as I passed him and started along the corridor toward the ramp that leads up to Fal Sivas’s quarters on the next level, he followed after me.

“Where are you going?” he asked, “to your quarters?”

“No, I am going to the quarters of Fal Sivas,” I replied, “He is very busy now. He cannot be disturbed,” said Hamas.

“I have information for him,” I said.

“It will have to wait until tomorrow morning.”

I turned and looked at him. “You annoy me, Hamas,” I said; “run along and mind your own business.”

He was furious then, and took hold of my arm. “I am major-domo here,” he cried, “and you must obey me. You are only a—a—”

“An assassin,” I prompted him meaningly, and laid my hand upon the hilt of my sword.

He backed away. “You wouldn’t dare,” he cried. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“Oh, wouldn’t I? You don’t know me, Hamas. I am in the employ of Fal Sivas; and when I am in a man’s employ, I obey him. He told me to report back to him at once. If it is necessary to kill you to do so, I shall have to kill you.”

His manner altered then, and I could see that he was afraid of me. “I only warned you for your own good,” he said. “Fal Sivas is in his laboratory now. If he is interrupted in the work that he is doing, he will be furious— he may kill you himself. If you are wise, you will wait until he sends for you.”

“Thank you, Hamas,” I said; “I am going to see Fal Sivas now. May you sleep well,” and I turned and continued on up the corridor toward the ramp. He did not follow me.

I went at once to the quarters of Fal Sivas, knocked once upon the door, and then opened it. Fal Sivas was not there, but I heard his voice coming from beyond the little door at the opposite end of the room.

“Who’s that? What do you want? Get out of here and do not disturb me,” he cried.

“It is I, Vandor,” I replied. “I must see you at once.”

“No, no, go away; I will see you in the morning.”

“You will see me now,” I said; “I am coming in there.”

I was halfway across the room, when the door opened and Fal Sivas, livid with rage, stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

“You dare? You dare?” he cried.

“Gar Nal’s ship is not in its hangar,” I said.

That seemed to bring him to his senses, but it did not lessen his rage; it only turned it in another direction.

“The calot!” he exclaimed, “the son of a thousand million calots! He has beaten me. He will go to Thuria. With the great wealth that he will bring back, he will do all that I had hoped to do.”

“Yes,” I said. “Ur Jan is with him, and what such a combination as Ur Jan and a great and unscrupulous scientist could do is incalculable; but you too have a ship, Fal Sivas. It is ready. You and I could go to Thuria. They would not suspect that we were coming. We would have all the advantage. We could destroy Gar Nal and his ship, and then you would be master.”

He paled. “No, no,” he said, “I can’t. I can’t do it.”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“Thuria is a long way. No one knows what might happen. Perhaps something would go wrong with the ship. It might not work in practice as it should in theory. There might be strange beasts and terrible men on Thuria.”

“But you built this ship to go to Thuria,” I cried. “You told me so, yourself.”

“It was a dream,” he mumbled; “I am always dreaming, for in dreams nothing bad can happen to me; but in Thuria—oh, it is so far, so high above Barsoom. What if something happened?”

And now I understood. The man was an arrant coward. He was allowing his great dream to collapse about his ears because he did not have the courage to undertake the great adventure.

What was I to do? I had been depending upon Fal Sivas, and now he had failed me.

“I cannot understand you,” I said; “with your own arguments, you convinced me that it would be a simple thing to go to Thuria in your ship. What possible danger can confront us there that we may not overcome? We shall be veritable giants on Thuria. No creature that lives there could withstand us. With the stamp of a foot, we could crush the lives from the greatest beasts that Thuria could support.”

I had been giving this matter considerable thought ever since there first appeared a likelihood that I might go to Thuria. I am no scientist, and my figures may not be accurate, but they are approximately true. I knew that the diameter of Thuria was supposed to be about seven miles, so that its volume could be only about two percent of that of, let us say, the Earth, that you may have a comparison that will be more understandable to you.

I estimated that if there were human beings on Thuria and they were proportioned to their environment as man on Earth is to his, they would be but about nine-and-a-half inches tall and weigh between four and five pounds; and that an earth-man transported to Mars would be able to jump 225 feet into the air, make a standing broad jump of 450 feet and a running broad jump of 725 feet, and that a strong man could lift a mass equivalent to a weight of 4 tons on earth.

Against such a Titan, the tiny creatures of Thuria would be helpless – provided, of course, that Thuria were inhabited.

I suggested all this to Fal Sivas, but he shook his head impatiently. “There is something that you do not know,” he said. “Perhaps Gar Nal, himself, does not know it. There is a peculiar relationship between Barsoom and her moons that does not exist between any of the other planets in the solar system and their satellites. The suggestion was made by an obscure scientist thousands of years ago, and then it seemed to have been forgotten. I discovered it in an ancient manuscript that I came upon by accident. It is in the original handwriting of the investigator and may have had no distribution whatsoever.