“In the name of Hin Abtol, Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North,” he declaimed, “I order you to turn over the command of this ship to me, or suffer the full consequences of your crime of mutiny.”
I saw the men on deck eyeing the two banefully. “You’d better go below,” I said; “you might fall overboard.”
Phor San turned to some of the crew members. “I am Odwar Phor San,” he announced, “commander of the fleet; put this man in irons and return the ship to the air field!”
“I think you have gone far enough, Phor San,” I said; “if you continue, I shall have to assume that you are attempting to incite my crew to mutiny, and act accordingly. Go below!”
“You trying to give me orders on one of my ships?” he demanded. “I’ll have you understand that I am Phor San—”
“Commander of the fleet,” I finished for him, “Here,” I said to a couple of warriors standing near, “take these two below, and if they don’t behave themselves, tie them up.”
Fuming and blustering, Phor San was dragged below. His companion went quietly; I guess he knew what was good for him.
The one ship was still hanging onto our tail and not gaining perceptibly, but there were two just behind her which were overhauling both of us.
“That doesn’t look so good,” I said to Tan Hadron, who was standing at my side.
“Let’s show them something,” he said.
“What, for instance?” I asked.
“Do you remember that maneuver of yours the last time Helium was attacked by an enemy fleet, where you got the flag ship and two other ships that thought you were running from them?”
“All right,” I said, “we’ll try it.” Then I sent for Fo-nar and gave him full instructions. While we were talking, I heard a series of piercing screams, gradually diminishing in the distance; but my mind was so occupied with this other matter, that I scarcely gave them a thought. Presently I got an “all’s ready” report from Fo-nar, and told Tan Hadron to go ahead with the maneuver.
The Dusar was going full speed ahead against a strong head wind, and when he brought her about she sped toward the oncoming ships like a racing thoat. Two of them were in position to open up on us when we came within range; however, they commenced firing too soon. We quite properly held our fire until it was effective. We were all firing our bow guns—the only ones that could be brought to bear; and no one was doing much damage.
As we drew closer to the leading ship, I saw considerable confusion on her deck; I imagine they thought we were going to ram them. Just then our gunner succeeded in putting her bow gun out of commission, which was fortunate indeed for us; then Tan Hadron elevated the Dusar’s nose, and we rose above the leading ship.
As we passed over her, there was a terrific explosion on her deck and she burst into flame. Tan Hadron turned to port so fast that the Dusar lay over on her side, and we on deck had to hang to anything we could get hold of to keep from going overboard; by this maneuver, he crossed over the second ship; and the bombers in the bilge of the Dusar dropped a heavy bomb on her deck. With the detonation of the bomb, she turned completely over, and then plummeted toward the ground, four thousand feet below. The explosion must have burst all her buoyancy tanks.
Only one ship now remained in our immediate vicinity; and as we made for her, she turned tail and ran, followed by the cheers of our men. We now resumed our course toward the north, the enemy having abandoned the chase.
The first ship was still burning, and I directed Tan Hadron to approach her to learn if any of the crew remained alive. As we came closer, I saw that she was hanging bow down, the whole after part of the ship being in flames. The bow was not burning, and I saw a number of men clinging to holds upon the tilted deck.
My bow gunner thought that I was going to finish them off, and trained his piece on them; but I stopped him just in time; then I hailed them. “Can you get at your boarding harness?” I shouted.
“Yes,” came back the answer.
“I’ll pull in below you and take you off,” I called, and in about fifteen minutes we had taken off the five survivors one of which was a Panar padwar.
They were surprised that I hadn’t either finished them off when I had them at such a disadvantage, or let them hang there and burn. The padwar was sure that we had some ulterior motive in taking them off the burning ship, and asked me how I intended to have them killed.
“I don’t intend to kill you at all,” I said, “unless I have to.”
My own men were quite as surprised as the prisoners; but I heard one of them say, “The Dwar’s been in the Helium navy—they don’t kill prisoners of war in Helium.” Well, they don’t kill them in all Martian countries, except that most do kill their prisoners if they find it difficult or impossible to take them home into slavery without endangering their own ships.
“What are you going to do with us?” asked the padwar.
“I’ll either land as soon as it is convenient, and set you free; or I’ll let you enlist and come with us. You must understand, however, that I am at war with Hin Abtol.”
All five decided to cast their lot with us, and I turned them over to Fo-nar to assign them to watches and prescribe their duties. My men were gathered amidships discussing the engagement; they were as proud as peacocks.
“We destroyed two ships and put a third to flight without suffering a casualty,” one was saying.
“That’s the kind of a Dwar to fly under,” said another. “I knew he was all right when I saw him handle Gan-ho. I tell you there’s a man to fight for.”
After overhearing this conversation and a lot more like it, I felt much more assured as to the possible success of the venture, for with a disloyal crew anything may happen except success.
A little later, as I was crossing the deck, I saw one of the warriors who had taken Phor San and his companion below; and I hailed him and asked him if the prisoners were all right.
“I am sorry to report, sir,” he said, “that they both fell overboard.”
“How could they fall overboard when they were below?” I demanded.
“They fell through the after bomb trap, sir,” he said, without cracking a smile.