“It’s about this warrior who hasn’t reported,” he replied. “The man who persuaded him to join up is worried, too. He said he hadn’t known him long, but since he came aboard the Dusar he’s met a couple of men who know the fellow well; and they say he’s an ulsio.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” I said. “If this man talks and arouses suspicion, we may have to take off in a hurry. Have you assigned each man to his station?”
“Tan Hadron is doing that now,” he replied. “I think we have found a splendid officer in that man.”
“I am sure of it,” I agreed. “Be sure that four men are detailed to cut the cables instantly, if it becomes necessary for us to make a quick getaway.”
When on the ground, the larger Martian fliers are moored to four deadmen, one on either side at the bow and one on either side at the stern. Unless a ship is to return to the same anchorage, these deadmen are dug up and taken aboard before she takes off. In the event of forced departure, such as I anticipated might be necessary in our case, the cables attached to the deadmen are often cut.
Fo-nar hadn’t been gone from my cabin five minutes before he came hurrying in again. “I guess we’re in for it, sir,” he said; “Odwar Phor San is coming aboard! That missing recruit is with him; he must have reported all he knew to Phor San.”
“When the odwar comes aboard, bring him down to my cabin; and then order the men to their stations; see that the four men you have detailed for that duty stand by the mooring cables with axes; ask Tan Hadron to start the engine and stand by to take off; post a man outside my cabin door to pass the word to take off when I give the signal; I’ll clap my hands twice.”
Fo-nar was gone only a couple of minutes before he returned. “He won’t come below,” he reported; “he’s storming around up there like a mad thoat, demanding to have the man brought on deck who gave orders to recruit a crew for the Dusar.”
“Is Tan Hadron at the controls ready to start the engine?” I asked.
“He is,” replied Fo-nar.
“He will start them, then, as soon as I come on deck; at the same time post your men at the mooring cables; tell them what the signal will be.”
I waited a couple of minutes after Fo-nar had left; then I went on deck. Phor San was stamping up and down, evidently in a terrible rage; he was also a little drunk.
I walked up to him and saluted. “Did you send for me, sir?” I asked.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Dwar commanding the Dusar, sir,” I replied.
“Who said so?” he yelled. “Who assigned you to this ship? Who assigned you to any ship?”
“You did, sir.”
“I?” he screamed. “I never saw you before. You are under arrest. Arrest him!” He turned to a warrior at his elbow—my missing recruit, as I suspected—and started to speak to him again.
“Wait a minute,” I said; “look at this; here’s a written order over your own signature assigning me to the command of the Dusar.” I held the order up where he could read it in the bright light of Mars’ two moons.
He looked surprised and a little crestfallen for just a moment; then he blustered, “It’s a forgery! Anyway, it didn’t give you authority to recruit warriors for the ship.” He was weakening.
“What good is a fighting ship without warriors?” I demanded.
“You don’t need warriors on a ship that won’t fly, you idiot,” he came back.
“You thought you were pretty cute, getting me to sign that order; but I was a little cuter—I knew the Dusar wouldn’t fly.”
“Well, then, why all the fuss, sir?” I asked.
“Because you’re plotting something; I don’t know what, but I’m going to find out—getting men aboard this ship secretly at night! I rescind that order, and I place you under arrest.”
I had hoped to get him off the ship peaceably, for I wanted to make sure of Llana’s whereabouts before taking off. One man had told me that he had heard that she was on a ship bound for Pankor, but that was not definite. I also wished to know if Hin Abtol was with her.
“Very well, Phor San,” I said; “now let me tell you something. I am in command of this ship, and I intend to stay in command. I’ll give you and this rat here three seconds to get over the side, for the Dusar will take off in three seconds,” and then I clapped my hands twice.
Phor San laughed a sneering laugh. “I told you it wouldn’t fly,” he said; “now come along! If you won’t come quietly, you’ll be taken;” he pointed overside. I looked, and saw a strong detachment of warriors marching toward the Dusar; at the same time, the Dusar rose from the ground.
Phor San stood in front of me, gloating. “What are you going to do now?” he demanded.
“Take you for a little ride, Phor San,” I replied, and pointed overside.
He took one look, and then ran to the rail. His warriors were looking up at him in futile bewilderment. Phor San shouted to the padwar commanding them, “Order the Okar to pursue and take this ship!” The Okar was his flagship.
“Perhaps you’d like to come down to my cabin and have a little drink,” I suggested, the liquor of the former commander being still there. “You go with him,” I ordered the recruit who had betrayed us; “you will find liquor in one of the cabinets;” then I went to the bridge. On the way, I sent a warrior to summon Fo-nar. I told Tan Hadron to circle above the line of ships; and when Fo-nar reported, I gave him his orders, and he went below.
“We can’t let them take to the air,” I told Tan Hadron; “this is not a fast ship, and if several of them overhauled us we wouldn’t have a chance.”
Following my orders, Tan Hadron flew low toward the first ship on the line; it was the Okar, and she was about to take off. I signalled down to Fo-nar, and an instant later there was a terrific explosion aboard the Okar—our first bomb had made a clean hit! Slowly we moved down the line, dropping our bombs; but before we had reached the middle of it, ships at the lower end were taking off and projectiles were bursting around us from the ground batteries.
“It’s time we got out of here,” I said to Tan Hadron. He opened the throttle wide then, and the Dusar rose rapidly in a zig zag course.
Our own guns were answering the ground batteries, and evidently very effectively, for we were not hit once. I felt that we had come out of the affair so far very fortunately. We hadn’t disabled as many ships as I had hoped that we I might, and there were already several in the air which would doubtless pursue us; I could see one ship on our tail already, but she was out of range and apparently not gaining on us rapidly, if at all.
I told Tan Hadron to set his course due North, and then I sent for Fo-nar and told him to muster all hands on deck; I wanted a chance to look over my crew and explain what our expedition involved. There was time for this now, while no ships were within range of us, which might not be true in a short time.
The men came piling up from below and from their stations on deck. They were, for the most part, a hardbitten lot, veterans, I should say, of many a campaign.
As I looked them over I could see that they were sizing me up; they were probably wondering more about me than I was about them, for I was quite sure what they would do if they thought they could get the upper hand of me—I’d “fall” overboard, and they would take over the ship, then they’d quarrel among themselves as to what they would do with it and where they would fly it; in the end, half a dozen of the hardiest would survive, make for the nearest city, sell the Dusar, and have a wild orgy—if they didn’t wreck her before.
I asked each man his name and his past experience; there were, among the twenty-three, eleven panthans and twelve assassins; and they had fought all over the world. Seven of the panthans were from Helium, or had served in the Helium navy. I knew that these men were accustomed to discipline. The assassins were from various cities, scattered all over Barsoom. I didn’t need to ask them, to be quite sure that each had incurred the wrath of his Guild and been forced to flee in order to escape assassination himself; they were a tough lot.
“We are flying to Pankor,” I told them, “in search of the daughter of the jed of Gathol, who has been abducted by Hin Abtol. There may be a great deal of fighting before we get her; if we succeed and live, we will fly to Helium; there I shall turn the ship over to you, and you can do what you please with it.”
“You’re not flying me to Pankor,” said one of the assassins; “I’ve been there for twenty-five years, and I’m not going back.”
This was insubordination verging on mutiny. In a well disciplined navy, it would have been a very simple thing to handle; but here, where there was no higher authority than I, I had to take a very different course from a commander with a powerful government behind him. I stepped up to the man and slapped him as I had slapped Kor-an; and, like Kor-an, he went down.
“You’re flying wherever I fly you,” I said; “I’ll have no insubordination on this ship.”
He leaped to his feet and whipped out his sword, and there was nothing for me to do but draw also.
“The penalty for this, you understand, is death,” I said, “—unless you sheathe your sword immediately.”
“I’ll sheathe it in your belly, you calot!” he cried, making a terrific lunge at me, which I parried easily and then ran him through the right shoulder. I knew that I would have to kill him, for the discipline of the ship and perhaps the fate of Llana of Gathol might hinge on this question of my supremacy and my authority; but first I must give an exhibition of swordplay that would definitely assure the other members of the crew that the lethal thrust was no accident, as they might have thought had I killed him at once.
So I played with him as a cat plays with a mouse, until the other members of the crew, who had stood silent and scowling at first, commenced to ridicule him.
“I thought you were going to sheathe your sword in his belly,” taunted one.
“Why don’t you kill him, Gan-ho?” demanded another. “I thought you were such a great swordsman.”
“I can tell you one thing,” said a third: “you are not going to fly to Pankor, or anywhere else. Goodby, Gan-ho! you are dead.”
Just to show the other men how easily I could do it, I disarmed Gan-ho, sending his blade rattling across the deck. He stood for a moment glaring at me like a mad beast; then he turned and ran across the deck and dove over the rail. I was glad that I did not have to kill him.
I turned to the men gathered before me. “Is there any other who will not fly to Pankor?” I asked, and waited for a reply.
Several of them grinned sheepishly; and there was much scuffing of sandals on the deck, but no one replied.
“I had you mustered here to tell where we were flying and why; also that Fo-nar is First Padwar, Tan Hadron is Second Padwar, and I am your Dwar—we are to be obeyed. Return to your stations.”