I had been practicing him in disarming an opponent, when a door opposite that from which we had entered the room opened; and a man came in. During the brief time that the door remained open, I saw beyond it a brilliantly lighted room; and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be an amazingly complicated machine.
Its face was covered with dials, buttons, and other gadgets—all reminiscent of the machine to which I had been attached during the weird examination I had received upon entry to the city.
At sight of me, the newcomer looked surprised. Here was I, a total stranger and evidently a slave, facing the Jeddak of the First Born with a naked blade in my hand. Instantly, the fellow whipped out a radium pistol; but Doxus forestalled a tragedy.
“It is all right, Myr-lo,” he said. “I am just taking some instruction in the finer points of swordsmanship from this slave. His name is Dotar Sojat; you will see him down here with me daily. What are you doing down here now? Anything wrong?”
“A slave escaped last night,” said Myr-lo.
“You got him, of course?”
“Just now. He was about half way up the escarpment, I think.”
“Good!” said Doxus. “Resume, Dotar Sojat.”
I was so full of what I had just heard and seen and what I thought that it all connoted that I had hard work keeping my mind on my work; so that I inadvertently let Doxus prick me. He was as pleased as Punch.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “In one lesson I have been so improved that I have been able to touch you! Not even Nolat could do that. We will stop now. I give you the freedom of the city. Do not go beyond the gates.” He went to the table and wrote for a minute; then he handed me what he had written. “Take this,” he said; “it will permit you to go where you will in all public places and return to the palace.”
He had written:
Dotar Sojat, the slave, is granted the freedom of the palace and the city.
As I returned to my quarters, I determined to let Doxus prick me every day. I found Man-lat, the under-officer who had been detailed to look after me, alone in his room, which adjoined mine.
“Your duties are going to be lessened,” I told him.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I showed him the pass.
“Doxus must have taken a liking to you,” he said. “I never knew before of a slave being given that much freedom, but don’t try to escape.”
“I know better than to try that. I saw the skeletons from the top to the bottom of the escarpment.”
“We call them Myr-lo’s babies,” said Man-lat; “he’s so proud of them.”
“Who is Myr-lo?” I asked.
“Somebody you’ll probably never see,” replied Man-lat. “He sticks to his pots and his kettles, his lathes and drills and his drawing instruments.”
“Does he live in the palace?” I asked.
“Nobody knows where he lives, unless it be the jeddak. They say he has a secret apartment in the palace, but I don’t know about that. What I do know is that he’s the most powerful man in Kamtol, next to Doxus; and that he has the power of life and death over every man and woman in the Valley of the First Born. Why, he could strike either one of us dead right while we are sitting here talking; and we’d never see what killed us.”
I was even more convinced now than I had been before that I had found what I had hoped to in that secret room beneath the palace but how to utilize the knowledge!
I immediately took advantage of my freedom to go out into the city, only a part of which I had seen during the short time that I had been out with Ptang. The guards at the palace gate were as surprised when they read my pass as Man-lat had been. Of course, pass or no pass, I was still an enemy and a slave—a person to be viewed with suspicion and contempt; but in my case the contempt was tempered by the knowledge that I had bested their best at swordsmanship. I doubt that you can realize in what high esteem a great swordsman is held everywhere on Mars. In his own country he is worshipped, as might be a Juan Belmonte in Spain or a Jack Dempsey in America.
I had not gone far from the palace, when I chanced to look up; and, to my surprise, saw a number of fliers dropping down toward the city. The First Born I had seen in the Valley Dor had all been flying men; but I had not before seen any fliers over the valley, and I had wondered.
Martian aeroplanes, being lighter than air, or in effect so; because of the utilization of that marvellous discovery, the ray of repulsion, which tends to push them away from the planet, can land vertically in a space but little larger in area than themselves; and I saw that the planes I was watching were coming down into the city at no great distance from the palace.
Fliers! I think that my heart beat a little faster at the sight of them. Fliers! A means of escape from the Valley of the First Born. It might take a great deal of scheming; and would certainly entail enormous risks; but if all went well with the other part of my plan, I would find a way—and a flier.
I made my way toward the point at which I had seen the fliers disappear behind the roofs of the buildings near me, and at last my search was rewarded. I came to an enormous building some three stories high, on the roof of which I could just see a part of a flier. Practically all hangars to Barsoom are on the roofs of buildings, usually to conserve space in crowded, walled cities; so I was not surprised to find a hangar in Kamtol thus located.
I approached the entrance to the building, determined to inspect it and some of the ships if I could get in. As I stepped through the entrance, a warrior barred my way with drawn sword.
“Where do you think you’re going, slave?” he demanded.
I showed him my pass.
He looked equally as surprised as the others had who had read it. “This says the freedom of the palace and the city,” he said; “it doesn’t say the freedom of the hangars.”
“They’re in the city, aren’t they?” I demanded.
He shook his head. “They may be in the city, but I won’t admit you. I’ll call the officer.”
He did so, and presently the officer appeared. “So!” he exclaimed, when he saw me; “you’re the slave who could have killed Nolat, but spared his life. What do you want here?”
I handed him my pass. He read it carefully a couple of times. “It doesn’t seem possible,” he said, “but then your swordsmanship didn’t seem possible either. It is hard for me to believe it yet. Why, Nolat was considered the best swordsman in Kamtol; and you made him look like an old woman with one leg. Why do you want to come in here?”
“I want to learn to fly,” I said, naively.
He slapped his thighs and laughed at that. “Either you are foolish, or you think we First Born are, if you have an idea that we would teach a slave to fly.”
“Well, I’d like to come in and look at the fliers anyway,” I said. “That wouldn’t do any harm. I’ve always been interested in them.”
He thought a moment; then he said, “Nolat is my best friend; you might have killed him, but you refused. For that I am going to let you come in.”
“Thank you,” I said.
The first floor of the building was largely given over to shops where fliers were being built or repaired. The second and third floors were packed with fliers, mostly the small, swift ones for which the Black Pirates of Barsoom are noted. On the roof were four large battleships; and, parked under them, were a number of small fliers for which there was evidently no room on the floors below.
The building must have covered several acres; so there were an enormous number of planes hangared there. I could see them now, as I had seen them years before, swarming like angry mosquitoes over the Golden Cliffs of the Holy Therns; but what were they doing here? I had supposed that the First Born lived only in the Valley Dor, although the majority of Barsoomians still believe that they come from Thuria, the nearer moon. That theory I had seen refuted the time that Xodar, a Black Pirate, had nearly succumbed from lack of oxygen when I had flown too high while escaping from them, that time that Thuvia and I had escaped the Therns, during their battle with the Black Pirates. If a man can’t live without oxygen, he can’t fly back and forth between Thuria and Barsoom in an open flier.
The officer had sent a warrior along, with me, as a precaution against sabotage, I suppose; and I asked this fellow why I had seen no ships in the air since I had come, except the few I had seen this day.
“We fly mostly at night,” he replied, “so that our enemies cannot see where we take off from, nor where we land. Those that you saw coming in a few minutes ago were visitors from Dor. That may mean that we are going to war, and I hope so. We haven’t raided any cities for a long time. If it’s to be a big raid, those from Dor and from Kamtol band together.”
Some Black Pirates from the Valley Dor! Now, indeed, I might be recognized.