Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 5

“No one ever does.”

“How about Rapas?” I asked. “He comes and goes apparently as he wishes.”

“Yes, Rapas comes and goes. He is Fal Sivas’s assassin. He also aids in the kidnaping of new victims. Under the circumstances he would have to be free to leave the building. Then there are a few others, old and trusted retainers, really partners in crime, whose lives Fal Sivas holds in the palm of his hand; but you may rest assured that none of these know too much about his inventions. The moment that one is taken into Fal Sivas’s confidence, his days are numbered.

“The man seems to have a mania for talking about his inventions. He must explain them to someone. I think that is because of his great egotism. He loves to boast. That is the reason he tells us who are doomed so much about his work. You may rest assured that Rapas knows nothing of importance. In fact, I have heard Fal Sivas say that one thing that endeared Rapas to him is the assassin’s utter stupidity. Fal Sivas says that if he explained every detail of an invention to him, Rapas wouldn’t have brains enough to understand it.”

By this time the girl had regained control of herself; and as she ceased speaking, she started toward the doorway. “Thank you so much,” she said, “for letting me come in here. I shall probably never see you again, but I should like to know who it is who has befriended me.”

“My name is Vandor,” I replied, “but what makes you think you will never see me again, and where are you going now?”

“I am going back to my quarters to wait for the next summons. It may come tomorrow.”

“You are going to stay right here,” I replied; “we may find a way of getting you out of this, yet.”

She looked at me in surprise and was about to reply when suddenly she cocked her head on one side and listened. “Someone is coming,” she said; “they are searching for me.”

I took her by the hand and drew her toward the doorway to my sleeping apartment.

“Come in here,” I said. “Let’s see if we can’t hide you.”

“No, no,” she demurred; “they would kill us both then, if they found me. You have been kind to me. I do not want them to kill you.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I replied; “I can take care of myself. Do as I tell you.”

I took her into my room and made her lie down on the little platform that serves in Barsoom. as a bed. Then I threw the sleeping silks and furs over her in a jumbled heap. Only by close examination could anyone have discovered that her little form lay hidden beneath them.

Stepping into the living room, I took a book at random from the shelf; and seating myself in a chair, opened it. I had scarcely done so, when I heard a scratching on the outside of the door leading to the corridor.

“Come in,” I called.

The door opened, and Fal Sivas stepped into the room.

 

III. — TRAPPED

Lowering my book, I looked up as Fal Sivas entered. He glanced quickly and suspiciously about the apartment. I had purposely left the door to my sleeping room open, so as not to arouse suspicion should anyone come in to investigate.

The doors to the other sleeping room and bath were also open. Fal Sivas glanced at the book in my hand. “Rather heavy reading for a panthan,” he remarked.

I smiled. “I recently read his Theoretical Mechanics. This is an earlier work, I believe, and not quite so authoritative. I was merely glancing through it.”

Fal Sivas studied me intently for a moment. “Are you not a little too well educated for your calling?” he asked.

“One may never know too much,” I replied.

“One may know too much here,” he said, and I recalled what the girl had told me.

His tone changed. “I stopped in to see if everything was all right with you, if you were comfortable.”

“Very,” I replied.

“You have not been disturbed? No one has been here?”

“The house seems very quiet,” I replied. “I heard someone laughing a short time ago, but that was all. It did not disturb me.”

“Has anyone come to your quarters?” he asked.

“Why, was someone supposed to come?”

“No one, of course,” he said shortly, and then he commenced to question me in an evident effort to ascertain the extent of my mechanical and chemical knowledge.

“I really know little of either subject,” I told him. “I am a fighting man by profession, not a scientist. Of course, familiarity with fliers connotes some mechanical knowledge, but after all I am only a tyro.”

He was studying me quizzically. “I wish that I knew you better,” he said at last; “I wish that I knew that I could trust you. You are an intelligent man. In the matter of brains, I am entirely alone here. I need an assistant. I need such a man as you.” He shook his head, rather disgustedly. “But what is the use? I can trust no one.”

“You employed me as your bodyguard. For that work I am fitted. Let it go at that.”

“You are right,” he agreed. “Time will tell what else you are fitted for.”

“And if I am to protect you,” I continued, “I must know more about your enemies. I must know who they are, and I must learn their plans.”

“There are many who would like to see me destroyed, or destroy me themselves; but there is one who, above all others, would profit by my death. He is Gar Nal, the inventor.” He looked up at me questioningly.

“I have never heard of him,” I said. “You must remember that I have been absent from Zodanga for many years.”

He nodded. “I am perfecting a ship that will traverse space. So is Gar Nal. He would like not only to have me destroyed, but also to steal the secrets of my invention that would permit him to perfect his; but Ur Jan is the one I most fear, because Gar Nal has employed him to destroy me.”

“I am unknown in Zodanga. I will hunt out this Ur Jan and see what I can learn.”

There was one thing that I wanted to learn right then, and that was whether or not Fal Sivas would permit me to leave his house on any pretext.

“You could learn nothing,” he said; “their meetings are secret. Even if you could gain admission, which is doubtful, you would be killed before you could get out again.”

“Perhaps not,” I said; “it is worth trying, anyway. Do you know where they hold their meetings?”

“Yes, but if you want to try that, I will have Rapas guide you to the building.”

“If I am to go, I do not want Rapas to know anything about it,” I said.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because I do not trust him,” I replied. “I would not trust anyone with knowledge of my plans.”

“You are quite right. When you are ready to go, I can give you directions so that you can find their meeting place.”

“I will go tomorrow,” I said, “after dark.”

He nodded his approval. He was standing where he could look directly into the bedroom where the girt was hidden. “Have you plenty of sleeping silks and furs?” he asked.

“Plenty,” I replied, “but I will bring my own tomorrow.”

“That will not be necessary. I will furnish you all that you require.” He still stood staring into that other room. I wondered if he suspected the truth, or if the girl had moved or her breathing were noticeable under the pile of materials beneath which she was hidden.

I did not dare to turn and look for myself for fear of arousing his suspicions further. I just sat there waiting, my hands close to the hilt of my short sword.

Perhaps the girl was near discovery; but, if so, Fal Sivas was also near death that moment.

At last he turned toward the outer doorway. “I will give you directions tomorrow for reaching the headquarters of the gorthans, and also tomorrow I will send you a slave. Do you wish a man or a woman?”

I preferred a man, but I thought that I detected here a possible opportunity for protecting the girl. “A woman,” I said.

He smiled. “And a pretty one, eh?”

“I should like to select her myself, if I may.”

“As you wish,” he replied. “I shall let you look them over tomorrow. May you sleep well.”

He left the room and closed the door behind him; but I knew that he stood outside for a long time, listening.

I picked I up the book once more and commenced to read it; but not a word registered on my consciousness, for all my faculties were centered on listening.

After what seemed a long time, I heard him move away; and shortly after I distinctly heard a door close on the level above me. Not until then did I move, but now I arose and went to the door. It was equipped with a heavy bar on the inside, and this I slid silently into its keeper.

Crossing the room, I entered the chamber where the girl lay and threw back the covers that concealed her. She had not moved. As she looked up at me, I placed a finger across my lips.

“You heard?” I asked in a low whisper.

She nodded.

“Tomorrow I will select you as my slave. Perhaps later I shall find a way to liberate you.”

“You are kind,” she said.

I reached down and took her by the hand. “Come,” I said, “into the other room. You can sleep there safely tonight, and in the morning we will plan how we may carry out the rest of our scheme.”

“I think that will not be difficult,” she said. “Early in the morning everyone but Fal Sivas goes to a large dining room on this level. Many of them will pass along this corridor. I can slip out, unseen, and join them. At breakfast you will have an opportunity of seeing all the slaves. Then you may select me if you still wish to do so.”

There were sleeping silks and furs in the room that I had assigned to her, and I knew that she would be comfortable; so I left her, and returning to my own room completed my preparations for the night that had been so strangely interrupted.

Early the next morning Zanda awoke me. “It will soon be time for them to go to breakfast,” she said. “You must go before I do, leaving the door open. Then when there is no one in the corridor, I will slip out.”

As I left my quarters, I saw two or three people moving along the corridor in the direction that Zanda had told me the dining room lay; and so I followed them, finally entering a large room in which there was a table that would seat about twenty. It was already over half filled. Most of the slaves were women—young women, and many of them were beautiful.

With the exception of two men, one sitting at either end of the table, all the occupants of the room were without weapons.

The man sitting at the head of the table was the same who had admitted Rapas and me the evening before. I learned later that his name was Hamas, and that he was the major-domo of the establishment.

The other armed man was Phystal. He was in charge of the slaves in the establishment. He also, as I was to learn later, attended to the procuring of many of them, usually by bribery or abduction.

As I entered the room, Hamas discovered me and motioned me to come to him. “You will sit here, next to me, Vandor,” he said.

I could not but note the difference in his manner from the night before, when he had seemed more or less an obsequious slave. I gathered that he played two roles for purposes known best to himself or his master. In his present role, he was obviously a person of importance.

“You slept well?” he asked.

“Quite,” I replied; “the house seems very quiet and peaceful at night.”

He grunted. “If you should hear any unusual sounds at night,” he said, “you will not investigate, unless the master or I call you.” And then, as though he felt that that needed some explanation, he added, “Fal Sivas sometimes works upon his experiments late at night. You must not disturb him no matter what you may hear.”

Some more slaves were entering the room now, and just behind them came Zanda. I glanced at Hamas and saw his eyes narrow as they alighted upon her.

“Here she is now, Phystal,” he said.