Some warriors were sitting around fires nearby; and, assuming that they were attached to the flying service, I approached them.
“Where is the flying officer in command?” I asked.
“Over there,” said one of the men, pointing at the largest ship on the line.
“Why—do you want to see him?”
“Well, he’s probably drunk.”
“He is drunk,” said another.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Odwar Phor San,” replied my informant. Odwar is about the same as general, or brigadier general. He commands ten thousand men in the army and a fleet in the navy.
“Thanks,” I said; “I’ll go over and see him.”
“You wouldn’t, if you knew him; he’s as mean as an ulsio.”
I walked over to the big ship. It was battered and weatherbeaten, and must have been at least fifty years old. A boarding ladder hung down amidships, and at its foot stood a warrior with drawn sword.
“What do you want?” he demanded
“I have a message for Odwar Phor San,” I said.
“Who is it from?”
“That is none of your business,” I told him, “send word to the odwar that Dotor Sojat wishes to see him on an important matter.”
The fellow saluted with mock elaborateness. “I didn’t know we had a jedwar among us,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Now, jedwar is the highest rank in a Barsoomian army or navy, other than that of jed or jeddak or Warlord, a rank created especially for me by the jeddaks of five empires. That warrior would have been surprised could he have known that he had conferred upon me a title far inferior to my own.
I laughed at his little joke, and said, “One never knows whom one is entertaining.”
“If you really have a message for the old ulsio, I’ll call the deck watch; but, by Issus, you’d better have a message of importance.”
“I have,” I assured him; and I spoke the truth, for it was of tremendous importance to me; so he hailed the deck watch and told him to tell the odwar that Dotor Sojat had come with an important message for him.
I waited about five minutes, and then I was summoned aboard and conducted to one of the cabins. A gross, slovenly man sat before a table on which was a large tankard and several heavy, metal goblets. He looked at me scowlingly out of bleary eyes.
“What does that son of a calot want now?” he demanded.
I guessed that he referred to a superior officer, and probably to Hin Abtol.
Well, if he thought I bore a message from Hin Abtol, so much the better.
“I am to report to you as an experienced flier,” I said.
“He sent you at this time of night to report to me as a flier?” he almost shouted at me.
“You have few experienced fliers,” I said. “I am a panthan who has flown every type of ship in the navy of Helium. I gathered that you would be glad to get me before some other commander snapped me up. I am a navigator, and familiar with all modern instruments, but if you don’t want me I shall then be free to attach myself elsewhere.”
He was befuddled by strong drink, or I’d probably never have gotten away with such a bluff. He pretended to be considering the matter seriously; and while he considered it, he poured himself another drink, which he swallowed in two or three gulps—what didn’t run down his front. Then he filled another goblet and pushed it across the table toward me, slopping most of its contents on the table top.
“Have drink!” he said.
“Not now,” I said; “I never drink when I am on duty.”
“You’re not on duty.”
“I am always on duty; I may have to take a ship up at any moment.”
He pondered this for several minutes with the assistance of another drink; then he filled another goblet and pushed it across the table toward me. “Have drink,” he said.
I now had two full goblets in front of me; it was evident that Phor San had not noticed that I had failed to drink the first one.
“What ship shall I command?” I asked; I was promoting myself rapidly. Phor San paid no attention to my question, being engaged in what was now becoming a delicate and difficult operation—the pouring of another drink; most of it went on the table, from where it ran down into his lap.
“What ship did you say I was to command?” I demanded.
He looked bewildered for a moment; then he tried to draw himself together with military dignity. “You will command the Dusar, Dwar,” he said; then he filled another goblet and pushed it toward me. “Have drink, Dwar,” he said. My promotion was confirmed.
I walked over to a desk covered with an untidy litter of papers, and searched until I found an official blank; on it I wrote:
To Dwar Dotor Sojat:
You will immediately take over command of ship Dusar.
By order of
After finding a cloth and wiping the liquor from the table in front of him, I laid the order down and handed him a pen.
“You forgot to sign this, Odwar,” I said. He was commencing to weave, and I saw that I must hurry.
“Sign what?” he demanded, reaching for the tankard.
I pushed it away from him, took his hand, and placed the pen point at the right place on the order blank. “Sign here,” I ordered.
“Sign here,” he repeated, and laboriously scrawled his name; then he fell forward on the table, asleep. I had been just in time.
I went on deck; both moons were now in the sky, Cluros just above the horizon, Thuria a little higher; by the time Cluros approached zenith, Thuria would have completed her orbit around Barsoom and passed him, so swift her flight through the heavens.
The deck watch approached me. “Where lies the Dusar?” I asked.
He pointed down the line. “About the fifth or sixth ship, I think,” he said.
I went overside; and as I reached the ground, the sentry there asked, “Was the old ulsio as drunk as ever?”
“He was perfectly sober,” I replied.
“Then some one had better send for the doctor,” he said, “for he must be sick.”.
I walked along the line, and at the fifth ship I approached the sentry at the foot of its ladder. “Is this the Dusar?” I asked.
“Can’t you read?” he demanded, impudently.
I look up then at the insigne on the ship’s bow; it was the Dusar. “Can you read?” I asked, and held the order up in front of him.
He snapped to attention and saluted. “I couldn’t tell by your metal,” he said, sullenly. He was quite right; I was wearing the metal of a common warrior.
I looked the ship over. From the ground it hadn’t a very promising appearance—just a disreputable, obsolete old hulk. Then I climbed the ladder and stepped to the deck of my new command; there was no boatswain’s call to pipe the side; there was only one man on watch; and he was curled up on the deck, fast asleep.
I walked over and poked him with the toe of a sandal. “Wake up, there!” I ordered.
He opened an eye and looked up at me; then he leaped to his feet. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here? What do you mean by kicking me in the ribs and waking me up?”
“One question at a time, my man,” I said. “I shall answer your first question, and that will answer the others also.” I held the order out to him.
As he took it, he said, “Don’t call me my man, you—” But he stopped there; he had read the order. He saluted and handed the order back to me, but I noticed just the suggestion of a grin on his face.
“Why did you smile?” I asked.
“I was thinking that you probably got the softest job in Hin Abtol’s navy,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“You won’t have anything to do; the Dusar is out of commission—she won’t fly.”
So! Perhaps Odwar Phor San was not as drunk as I had thought him.