Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 18

This done, I told Zanda to follow me and went at once to the hangar where the ship rested on her scaffolding.

“Why did you come here?” asked Zanda. “We ought to be getting out of the building as quickly as possible—you are going to take me with you, aren’t you, Vandor?”

“Certainly I am,” I said, “and we are going out of the building very shortly. Come, perhaps I shall need your help with these doors,” and I led the way to the two great doors in the end of the hangar. They were well hung, however, and after being unlatched, slid easily to the sides of the opening.

Zanda stepped to the threshold and looked out. “We cannot escape this way,” she said; “it is fifty feet to the ground, and there is no ladder or other means of descent.”

“Nevertheless, we are going to escape through that doorway,” I told her, amused at her mystification. “Just come with me, and you will see how.”

We returned to the side of the ship, and I must say that I was far from being as assured of success as I tried to pretend, as I concentrated my thoughts upon the little metal sphere that held the mechanical brain in the nose of the craft.

I think my heart stopped beating as I waited, and then a great wave of relief surged through me as I saw the door open and the ladder lowering itself toward the floor.

Zanda looked on in wide-eyed amazement. “Who is in there?” she demanded.

“No one,” I said. “Now up with you, and be quick about it. We have no time to loiter here.”

She was evidently afraid, but she obeyed me like a good soldier, and I followed her up the ladder into the cabin. Then I directed the brain to hoist the ladder and close the door, as I went forward into the control room, followed by the girl.

Here I again focused my thoughts upon the mechanical brain just above my head.

Even with the demonstration that I had already had, I could not yet convince myself of the reality of what I was doing. It seemed impossible that that insensate thing could raise the craft from its scaffolding and guide it safely through the doorway, yet scarcely had I supplied that motivating thought when the ship rose a few feet and moved almost silently toward the aperture.

As we passed out into the still night, Zanda threw her arms about my neck. “Oh, Vandor, Vandor!” she cried, “you have saved me from the clutches of that horrible creature. I am free! I am free again!” she cried, hysterically. “Oh, Vandor, I am yours; I shall be your slave forever. Do with me whatever you will.”

I could see that she was distraught and hysterical.

“You are excited, Zanda,” I said, soothingly. “You owe me nothing. You are a free woman. You do not have to be my slave or the slave of any other.”

“I want to be your slave, Vandor,” she said, and then in a very low voice, “I love you.”

Gently I disengaged her arms from about my neck. “You do not know what you are saying, Zanda,” I told her; “your gratitude has carried you away. You must not love me; my heart belongs to someone else, and there is another reason why you must not say that you love me—a reason that you will learn sooner or later, and then you will wish that you had been stricken dumb before you ever told me that you loved me.”

I was thinking of her hatred of John Carter and her avowed desire to kill him.

“I do not know what you mean,” she said; “but if you tell me not to love you, I will try to obey you, for no matter what you say, I am your slave. I owe my life to you, and I shall always be your slave.”

“We will talk about that some other time,” I said; “just now I have something to tell you that may make you wish that I had left you in the house of Fal Sivas.”

She knitted her brows and looked at me questioningly. “Another mystery?” she asked. “Again you speak in riddles.”

“We are going on a long and dangerous journey in this ship, Zanda. I am forced to take you with me because I cannot risk detection by landing you anywhere in Zodanga; and, of course, it would be signing your death warrant to set you down far beyond the walls of the city.”

“I do not want to be set down in Zodanga or outside it,” she replied. “Wherever you are going, I want to go with you. Some day you may need me, Vandor; and then you will be glad that I am along.”

“Do you know where we are going, Zanda?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “and I do not care. It would make no difference to me, even if you were going to Thuria.”

I smiled at that, and turned my attention again to the mechanical brain, directing it to take us to the spot where Jat Or waited; and just then I heard the wailing signal of a patrol boat above us.

 

XIV. — ON TO THURIA

Although I had realized the likelihood of our strange craft being discovered by a patrol boat, I had hoped that we might escape from the city without detection.

I knew that if we did not obey their command they would open fire on us, and a single hit might put an end to all my plans to reach Thuria and save Dejah Thoris.

While the armament of the ship, as described to me by Fal Sivas, would have given me an overwhelming advantage in an encounter with any patrol boat, I hesitated to stand and fight, because of the chance that a lucky shot from the enemy’s ship might disable us.

Fal Sivas had boasted of the high potential speed of his brain conception; and I decided that however much I might dislike to flee from an enemy, flight was the safest course to pursue.

Zanda had her face pressed to one of the numerous ports in the bull of the ship.

The wail of the patrol boat siren was now continuous—an eerie, menacing voice in the night, that pierced the air like sharp daggers.

“They are overhauling us, Vandor,” said Zanda; “and they are signaling other patrol boats to their aid.”

“They have probably noticed the strange lines of this craft; and not only their curiosity, but their suspicion has been aroused.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“We are going to put the speed of Fal Sivas’s motor to a test,” I replied.

I glanced up at the insensate metal sphere above my head. “Speed up! Faster! Escape the pursuing patrol boat!” Such were the directing thoughts that I imparted to the silent thing above me; then I waited.

I did not, however, have long to wait. No sooner had my thoughts impinged upon the sensitive mechanism than the accelerated whirr of the almost noiseless motor told me that my directions had been obeyed.

“She is no longer gaining on us,” cried Zanda excitedly. “We have leaped ahead; we are outdistancing her.”

The swift staccato of rapid fire burst upon our ears. Our enemy had opened fire upon us, and almost simultaneously, intermingling with the shots, we heard in the distance the wail of other sirens apprising us of the fact that reinforcements were closing in upon us.

The swift rush of the thin air of Mars along the sides of our ship attested our terrific speed. The lights of the city faded swiftly behind us. The searchlights of the patrol boats were rapidly diminishing bands of light across the starlit sky.

I do not know how fast we were going but probably in the neighborhood of 1350 haads an hour.

We sped low above the ancient sea bottom that lies west of Zodanga; and then, in a matter of about five minutes—it could not have been much more—our speed slackened rapidly, and I saw a small flier floating idly in the still air just ahead of us.

I knew that it must be the flier upon which Jat Or awaited me, and I directed the brain to bring our ship alongside it and stop.

The response of the ship to my every thought direction was uncanny; and when we came alongside of Jat Or’s craft and seemingly ghostly hands opened the door in the side of our ship, I experienced a brief sensation of terror, as though I were in the power of some soulless Frankenstein; and this notwithstanding the fact that every move of the ship had been in response to my own direction.

Jat Or stood on the narrow deck of his small flier gazing in astonishment at the strange craft that had drawn alongside.

“Had I not been expecting this,” he said, “I should have been streaking it for Helium by now. It is a sinister-looking affair with those great eyes giving it the appearance of some unworldly monster.”

“You will find that impression intensified when you have been aboard her for a while,” I told him. “She is very ‘unworldly’ in many respects.”

“Do you want me to come aboard now?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “after we make disposition of your flier.”

“What shall we do with it?” he asked. “Are you going to abandon it?”

“Set your destination compass on Helium, and open your throttle to half speed. When you are under way, we will come alongside again and take you aboard. One of the patrol boats at Helium will pick up the flier and return it to my hangar.”

He did as I had bid, and I directed the brain to take us alongside of him after he had gotten under way. A moment later he stepped into the cabin of Fal Sivas’s craft “Comfortable,” he commented; “the old boy must be something of a Sybarite.”

“He believed in being comfortable,” I replied, “but love of luxury has softened his fibre to such an extent that he was afraid to venture abroad in his ship after he had completed it.”

Jat Or turned to look about the cabin, and it chanced that his eyes fell upon the doors in the side of the ship just as I directed the brain to close them. He voiced an ejaculation of astonishment.

“In the name of my first ancestor,” he exclaimed, “who is closing those doors? I don’t see anyone, and you have not moved or touched any sort of operating device since I came aboard.”

“Come forward into the control room,” I said, “and you shall see the entire crew of this craft reposing in a metal case not much larger than your fist.”

As we entered the control room, Jat Or saw Zanda for the first time. I could see his surprise reflected in his eyes, but he was too well bred to offer any comment.

“This is Zanda, Jat Or,” I said. “Fal Sivas was about to remove her skull in the interests of science when I interrupted him this evening. The poor girl was forced to choose between the lesser of two evils; that is why she is with me.”

“That statement is a little misleading,” said Zanda. “Even if my life had not been in danger and I had been surrounded by every safeguard and luxury, I would still have chosen to go with Vandor, even to the end of the universe.”

“You see, Jat Or,” I remarked, with a smile, “the young lady does not know me very well; when she does, she will very probably change her mind.”

“Never,” said Zanda.

“Wait and see,” I cautioned her.

On our trip from Helium to Zodanga, I had explained to Jat Or the marvellous mechanism that Fal Sivas called a mechanical brain; and I could see the young padwar’s eyes searching the interior of the control room for this marvellous invention.

“There it is,” I said, pointing at the metal sphere slightly above his head in the nose of the craft.

“And that little thing drives the ship and opens the doors?” he asked.

“The motors drive the ship, Jat Or,” I told him, “and other motors operate the doors and perform various other mechanical duties aboard the craft. The mechanical brain merely operates them as our brains would direct our hands to certain duties.”

“That thing thinks?” he demanded.

“To all intents and purposes, it functions as would a human brain, the only difference being that it cannot originate thought.”

The padwar stood gazing at the thing in silence for several moments. “It gives me a strange feeling,” he said at last, “a helpless feeling, as though I were in the power of some creature that was omnipotent and yet could not reason.”

“I have much the same sensation,” I admitted, “and I cannot help but speculate upon what it might do if it could reason.”

“I, too, tremble to think of it,” said Zanda, “if Fal Sivas has imparted to it any of the heartless ruthlessness of his own mind.”

“It is his creature,” I reminded her.

“Then let us hope that it may never originate a thought.”

“That, of course, would be impossible,” said Jat Or.

“I do not know about that,” replied Zanda. “Such a thing was in Fal Sivas’s mind. He was, I know, working to that end; but whether he succeeded in imparting the power of original thought to this thing, I do not know. I know that he not only hoped to accomplish this miracle eventually, but that he was planning also to impart powers of speech to this horrible invention.”