Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XXVII. Flight Into Jeopardy

The rooms and corridors of that portion of the palace which we had entered were deserted, the inmates being either in hiding or defending the gates.

“And now that we are here,” demanded Bal Tab, the green man, “what do we do next? Where is the red woman?”

“It is a large palace to search,” said Ur Raj. “Even if we meet with no interference, it would take a long time; but certainly before long we shall find warriors barring our way.”

“Someone is coming down this corridor,” said Bal Tab. “I can hear him.”

The corridor curved to the left just ahead of us, and presently around this curve came a youth whom I recognized instantly. It was Orm-O. He ran quickly toward me.

“From one of the upper windows, I saw you enter the palace,” he said, “and I hurried to meet you as quickly as I could.”

“Where is Janai?” I demanded.

“I will show you,” he said; “but if I am found out, I shall be killed. Perhaps you are too late, for Jal Had has gone to visit her in her apartments, even though the period of mourning is not over.”

“Hurry,” I snapped, and Orm-O set off at a trot along the corridor, followed by Ur Raj, Bal Tab, and me. He led us to the bottom of a spiral ramp and told us to ascend to the third level where we should turn to the right and follow a corridor to its end. There we should find the door leading into Janai’s apartments.

“If Jal Had is with Janai, the corridor will be guarded,” he said, “and you will have to fight, but you will not have to contend with firearms as Jal Had, fearing assassination, permits no one but himself to carry firearms in the palace.”

After thanking Orm-O, the three of us ascended the spiral ramp, and as we reached the third level I saw two warriors standing before a door at the end of a short corridor. Behind that door would be Jal Had and Janai.

The warriors saw us as soon as we saw them, and they came toward us with drawn swords.

“What do you want here?” demanded one of them.

“I wish to see Jal Had,” I replied.

“You cannot see Jal Had,” he said. “Go back to your cages where you belong.”

For answer, Bal Tab felled the warrior with a blow from the metal shod goad that he carried, and almost simultaneously I engaged the other in a duel with swords.

The fellow was a remarkably good swordsman, but he could not cope with one who had been a pupil of John Carter and who had the added advantage of an abnormally long reach and great strength.

I finished him quickly as I did not wish to delay much, nor did I wish to add to his sufferings.

Bal Tab was smiling, for it amused him to see men die. “You have a fine sword arm,” he said, which was high praise from a green Martian.

Stepping over the body of my antagonist, I threw open the door and entered the room beyond, a small ante-room which was vacant. At the far end of this room was another door, beyond which I could hear the sound of voices raised in anger or excitement. Crossing quickly, I entered the second room where I found Jal Had holding Janai in his arms. She was struggling to escape, and striking at him.

His face was red with anger, and I saw him raise his fist to strike her.

“Stop!” I cried, and then they both turned and saw me.

“Tor-dur-bar!” cried Janai, and there was a note of relief in her tone.

When Jal Had saw us he pushed Janai roughly from him and whipped out his radium pistol. I leaped for him, but before I could reach him, a metal shod goad whizzed by my shoulder and passed through the heart of the Prince of Amhor before he could level his pistol or squeeze the trigger. Bal Tab it was who had cast the goad, and to him I probably owed my life.

I think we were all a little surprised and shaken by the suddenness and enormity of the thing that had taken place, and for a moment we stood there in silence looking down at the body of Jal Had.

“Well,” said Ur Raj, presently, “he is dead; and now what are we going to do?”

“The palace and the palace grounds are filled with his retainers,” said Janai.

“If they discover what we have done, we shall all be killed.”

“We three should give them a battle they would long remember,” said Bal Tab.

“If there were some place where we might hide until after dark,” said Ur Raj, “I am sure that we can get out of the palace grounds, and we might even be able to leave the city.”

“Do you know any place where we might hide until after dark?” I asked Janai.

“No,” she said, “I know of no place where they would not search.”

“What is on the level above us?” I asked.

“The royal hangar,” she replied, “where Jal Had’s private airships are kept.”

Involuntarily I voiced an exclamation of relief. “What luck!” I exclaimed.

“Nothing could suit our purpose better than one of Jal Had’s fliers.”

“But the hangars are well guarded,” said Janai. “I have often seen the warriors marching past my door to relieve the hangar guards. There were never less than ten of them.”

“There may not be so many today,” said Ur Raj, “as Jal Had needed all his force to defend the palace gates.”

“If there were twenty,” said Bal Tab, “it would make a better fight. Let us hope that there are not too few.”

I gave Jal Had’s radium pistol to Ur Raj, and then the four of us went out into the corridor and ascended the ramp that led to the hangar on the roof. I sent Ur Raj ahead because he was smaller than either Bal Tab or I, and could reconnoiter with less likelihood of being discovered; also, the fact that he was a red man made it advantageous to use him thus, as he would less quickly arouse suspicion than either Bal Tab or myself. We three trailed a short distance behind him, and when he reached a point where he could get a view of the roof we halted and waited.

Presently he returned to us. “There are but two men on guard,” he said. “It will be easy.”

“We’ll rush them,” I suggested. “If we take them by surprise, it may not be necessary to kill them.” Although an experienced man who has participated in many conflicts, I still dislike seeing men die and especially by my own hands, if matters can be arranged otherwise; but the chaps who guarded the royal hangar on the roof did not seem to care whether they lived or died for they charged us the moment they saw us; and though I promised not to harm them if they surrendered, they kept on coming until there was nothing for us to do but engage them.

Just before they reached us, one of them spoke quietly to the other, who turned and ran as fast as he could across the roof. Then his valiant companion engaged us; but I caught a glimpse of the second man disappearing through a trap in the roof. Evidently he had gone to summon aid while his fellow sacrificed his life to detain us. The instant that I realized this, I leaped in to close quarters and dispatched the warrior, though I must say that I never before killed a man with less relish. This simple warrior was a hero, if ever there was one; and it seemed a shame to take his life, but it was his or ours.

Knowing that pursuit might develop immediately, I summoned the others to follow me and hastened into the hangar where I quickly selected what appeared to be a reasonably fast flier which would accommodate all of us.

I knew that Ur Raj could pilot a ship; and so I ordered him to the controls, and a moment later we were gliding smoothly out of the hangar and across the roof.

As we took off, I looked down into the palace grounds from which rose the cries of the beasts and the shouts of the warriors; and even as I looked I saw the gate fall and the men of Dur Ajmad swarm through to overwhelm the remnants of Jal Had’s forces.

As we rose in the air, I saw a patrol boat some distance away turn and head for us. I immediately ordered Bal Tab and Janai below, and after giving some instructions to Ur Raj I followed them so that none of us might be seen by members of the crew of the patrol boat.

The latter approached us rapidly, and when it was in speaking distance asked us who we had aboard and where we were headed. Following my instructions, Ur Raj replied that Jal Had was below and that he had given orders not to divulge our destination. The commander of the patrol boat may have had his doubts as to the veracity of the statement, but evidently he felt that he did not care to take a chance of antagonizing his prince in the event that he were aboard and had given such instructions; so he fell off and let us continue on our way; but presently he started trailing us, and before we had passed beyond the limits of the city I saw at least a dozen fliers in pursuit. The hangar guard who had escaped had evidently raised the alarm. Perhaps, even, they had found the body of Jal Had.

In any event, it was quite evident that we were being pursued; and when the other ships overtook the patrol and spoke, it too came after us at full speed.