Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 19

“Why do you call it horrible?” asked Jat Or.

“Because it is inhuman and unnatural,” replied the girl. “Nothing good could come out of the mind of Fal Sivas. The thing you see there was conceived in hate and lust and greed, and it was contrived for the satisfaction of such characteristics in Fal Sivas. No ennobling or lofty thoughts went into its fabrication; and none could emanate from it, had it the power of original thought.”

“But our purpose is lofty and honorable,” I reminded her; “and if it serves us in the consummation of our hope, it will have accomplished good.”

“Nevertheless, I fear it,” replied Zanda. “I hate it because it reminds me of Fal Sivas.”

“I hope that it is not meditating upon these candid avowals,” remarked Jat Or.

Zanda slapped an open palm across her lips, her wide eyes reflecting a new terror. “I had not thought of that,” she whispered. “Perhaps this very minute it is planning its revenge.”

I could not but laugh at her fear. “If any harm befalls us through that brain, Zanda,” I said, “you may lay the blame at my door, for it is my mind that shall actuate it as long as the ship remains in my possession.”

“I hope you are right,” she said, “and that it will bear us safely wherever you wish to go.”

“And suppose we get to Thuria alive?” interjected Jat Or. “You know I have been wondering about that. I have been giving the matter considerable thought, naturally, since you said that that was to be our destination; and I am wondering how we will fare on that tiny satellite. We shall be so out of proportion in size to anything that we may find there.”

“Perhaps we shall not be,” I said, and then I explained to him the theory of compensatory adjustment of masses as Fal Sivas had expounded it to me.

“It sounds preposterous,” said Jat Or.

I shrugged. “It does to me, too,” I admitted; “but no matter how much we may abhor Fal Sivas’s character, we cannot deny the fact that he has a marvellous scientific brain; and I am going to hold my opinion in abeyance until we reach the surface of Thuria.”

“At least,” said Jat Or, “no matter what the conditions there may be, the abductors of the princess will have no advantage over us if we find them there.”

“Do you doubt that we shall find them?” I asked.

“It is merely a matter of conjecture, one way or another,” he replied; “but it does not seem within the realms of possibility that two inventors, working independently of one another, could each have conceived and built two identical ships capable of crossing the airless void between here and Thuria, under the guidance of mechanical brains.”

“But as far as I know,” I replied, “Gar Nal’s craft is not so operated. Fal Sivas does not believe that Gar Nal has produced such a brain. He does not believe that the man has even conceived the possibility of one, and so we may assume that Gar Nal’s craft is operated by Gar Nal, or at least wholly by human means.”

“Then which ship has the better chance to reach Thuria?” asked Jat Or.

“According to Fal Sivas,” I replied, “there can be no question about that. This mechanical brain of his cannot make mistakes.”

“If we accept that,” said Jat Or, “then we must also accept the possibility of Gar Nal’s human brain erring in some respects in its calculations.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“It just occurred to me that through some error in calculations Gar Nal might not reach Thuria; whereas, directed by an errorless brain, we are certain to.”

“I had not thought of that,” I said, “I was so obsessed by the thought that Gar Nal and Ur Jan were taking their victim to Thuria that I never gave a thought to the possibility that they might not be able to get there.”

The idea distressed me, for I realized how hopeless my quest must be if we reached Thuria only to find that Dejah Thoris was not there. Where could I look for her? Where could I hope to find her in the illimitable reaches of space? But I soon cast these thoughts from me, for worry is a destructive force that I have tried to eliminate from my philosophy of life.

Zanda looked at me with a puzzled expression. “We are really going to Thuria?” she asked. “I do not understand why anyone should want to go to Thuria; but I am content to go, if you go. When do we start, Vandor?”

“We are well on our way, now,” I replied. “The moment that Jat Or came aboard, I directed the brain to head for Thuria at full speed.”



Later, as we hurtled on through the cold, dark reaches of space, I urged Zanda and Jat Or to lie down and rest.

Although we had no sleeping silks and furs we should not suffer, as the temperature of the cabin was comfortable. I had directed the brain to control this, as well as the oxygen supply, after we left the surface of Barsoom.

There were narrow but comfortable divans in the cabin, as well as a number of soft pillows; so there was no occasion for any of us suffering during the trip.

We had left Barsoom about the middle of the eighth zode, which is equivalent to midnight earth-time; and a rather rough computation of the distance to be traveled and our estimated speed, suggested that we should arrive on Thuria about noon of the following day.

Jat Or wanted to stand watch the full time, but I insisted that we must each get some sleep; so, on my promise to awaken him at the end of five hours, he lay down.

While my two companions slept, I made a more careful examination of the interior of the ship than I had been able to do at the time that Fal Sivas had conducted me through it.

I found it well supplied with food, and in a chest in the storeroom I also discovered sleeping silks and furs; but, of course, what interested me most of all were the weapons. There were long swords, short swords, and daggers, as well as a number of the remarkable Barsoomian radium rifles and pistols, together with a considerable quantity of ammunition for both.

Fal Sivas seemed to have forgotten nothing, yet all his thought and care and efficiency would have gone for nothing had I not been able to seize the ship.

His own cowardice would have prevented him from using it; and of course he would not have permitted another to take it out, even had he believed that another brain than his could have operated it, which he had been confident was not possible.

My inspection of the ship completed, I went into the control room and looked out through one of the great eyes. The heavens were a black void shot with cold and glittering points of light. How different the stars looked when one had passed beyond the atmosphere of the planet.

I looked for Thuria. She was nowhere in sight. The discovery was a distinct shock. Had the mechanical brain failed us? While I was wasting my time inspecting the ship, was it bearing us off into some remote comer of space?

I am not inclined to lose my head and become hysterical when confronted by an emergency; nor, except when instant action is required, do I take snap judgment.

I am more inclined to think things out carefully, and so I sat down on a bench in the control room to work out my problem.

Just then Jat Or came in. “How long have I been sleeping?” he asked, “Not long,” I replied; “you had better go back and get all the rest that you can.”

“I am not sleepy,” he said. “In fact it is rather difficult to contemplate sleep when one is in the midst of such a thrilling adventure. Think of it, my prince——”

“Vandor,” I reminded him.

“Sometimes I forget,” he said; “but, anyway, as I was saying, think of the possibilities; think of the tremendous possibilities of this adventure; think of our situation.”

“I have been thinking of it,” I replied a little gloomily.

“In a few hours we shall be where no other Barsoomian has ever been —upon Thuria.”

“I am not so sure of that,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Take a look ahead,” I told him. “Do you see anything of Thuria?”

He looked out of one of the round ports and then turned to the other. “I don’t see Thuria,” he said.

“Neither do I,” I replied. “And do you realize what that suggests?”

He looked stunned for a moment. “You mean that we are not bound for Thuria —that the brain has erred?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“How far is it from Barsoom to Thuria?” he asked.

“A little over 15,700 haads,” I replied. “I estimated that we should complete the trip in about five zodes.”

Just then Thuria hurtled into view upon our right, and Jat Or voiced an exclamation of relief. “I have it,” he exclaimed.

“What?” I asked.

“Your mechanical brain is functioning better than ours,” he replied. “During the ten zodes of a Barsoomian day, Thuria revolves about our planet over three times; so while we were traveling to the path of her orbit she would encircle Barsoom one and a half times.”

“And you think the mechanical brain has reasoned that out?”

“Unquestionably,” he said; “and it will time our arrival to meet the satellite in its path.”

I scratched my head. “This raises another question that I had not thought of before,” I said.

“What is that?” asked Jat Or.

“The speed of our ship is approximately 3250 haads per zode, whereas Thuria is traveling at a rate of over 41,250 haads during the same period.”

Jat Or whistled. “Over twelve and a half times our speed,” he exclaimed. “How in the name of our first ancestor are we going to catch her?”

I made a gesture of resignation. “I imagine we shall have to leave that to the brain,” I said.

“I hope it doesn’t get us in the path of that hurtling mass of destruction,” said Jat Or.

“Just how would you make a landing if you were operating the ship with your own brain?” I asked.

“We’ve got to take Thuria’s force of gravity into consideration,” he said.

“That is just it,” I replied. “When we get into the sphere of her influence, we shall be pulled along at the same rate she is going; and then we can make a natural landing.”

Jat Or was looking out at the great orb of Thuria on our right. “How perfectly tremendous she looks,” he said. “It doesn’t seem possible that we have come close enough to make her took as large as that.”

“You forget,” I said, “that as we approached her, we commenced to grow smaller—to proportion ourselves to her size. When we reach her surface, if we ever do, she will seem as large to us as Barsoom does when we are on its surface.”

“It all sounds like a mad dream to me,” said Jat Or.

“I fully agree with you,” I replied, “but you will have to admit that it is going to be a most interesting dream.”

As we sped on through space, Thuria hurtled across our bow and eventually disappeared below the Eastern rim of the planet that lay now so far below us.

Doubtless, when she completed another revolution, we should be within the sphere of her influence. Then, and not until then, would we know the outcome of this phase of our adventure.

I insisted now that Jat Or return to the cabin and get a few hours’ sleep, for none of us knew what lay in the future and to what extent our reserves of strength, both physical and mental, might be called upon.

Later on, I called Jat Or and lay down myself to rest. Through it all, Zanda slept peacefully; nor did she awaken until after I had had my sleep and returned to the control room.

Jat Or was sitting with his face glued to the starboard eye. He did not look back at me, but evidently he heard me enter the cabin.

“She is coming,” he said in a tense whisper. “Issus! What a magnificent and inspiring sight!”

I went to the port and looked out over his shoulder. There before me was a great world, one crescent edge illuminated by the sun beyond it. Vaguely I thought that I saw the contour of mountains and valleys, lighter expanses that might have been sandy desert or dead sea bottom, and dark masses that could have been forests. A new world! A world that no earthman nor any Barsoomian had ever visited.

I could have been thrilled beyond the power of words to express at the thought of the adventure that lay before me had my mind not been so overcast by fear for the fate of my princess. Thoughts of her dominated all others, yet they did not crowd out entirely the sense of magnificent mystery that the sight of this new world aroused within me.