Swords of Mars

Chapter XV

Thuria

Edgar Rice Burroughs


LATER, as we hurtled on through the cold, dark reaches of space, I urged Zanda and Jat Or to lie down and rest.

Although we had no sleeping silks and furs we should not suffer, as the temperature of the cabin was comfortable. I had directed the brain to control this, as well as the oxygen supply, after we left the surface of Barsoom.

There were narrow but comfortable divans in the cabin, as well as a number of soft pillows; so there was no occasion for any of us suffering during the trip.

We had left Barsoom about the middle of the eighth zode, which is equivalent to midnight earth-time; and a rather rough computation of the distance to be travelled and our estimated speed, suggested that we should arrive on Thuria about noon of the following day.

Jat Or wanted to stand watch the full time, but I insisted that we must each get some sleep; so, on my promise to awaken him at the end of five hours, he lay down.

While my two companions slept, I made a more careful examination of the interior of the ship than I had been able to do at the time that Fal Sivas had conducted me through it.

I found it well supplied with food, and in a chest in the storeroom I also discovered sleeping silks and furs; but, of course, what interested me most of all were the weapons. There were long swords, short swords, and daggers, as well as a number of the remarkable Barsoomian radium rifles and pistols, together with a considerable quantity of ammunition for both.

Fal Sivas seemed to have forgotten nothing, yet all his thought and care and efficiency would have gone for nothing had I not been able to seize the ship.

His own cowardice would have prevented him from using it; and of course he would not have permitted another to take it out, even had he believed that another brain than his could have operated it, which he had been confident was not possible.

My inspection of the ship completed, I went into the control room and looked out through one of the great eyes. The heavens were a black void shot with cold and glittering points of light. How different the stars looked when one had passed beyond the atmosphere of the planet.

I looked for Thuria. She was nowhere in sight. The discovery was a distinct shock. Had the mechanical brain failed us? While I was wasting my time inspecting the ship, was it bearing us off into some remote comer of space?

I am not inclined to lose my head and become hysterical when confronted by an emergency; nor, except when instant action is required, do I take snap judgment.

I am more inclined to think things out carefully, and so I sat down on a bench in the control room to work out my problem.

Just then Jat Or came in. “How long have I been sleeping?” he asked, “Not long,” I replied; “you had better go back and get all the rest that you can.”

“I am not sleepy,” he said. “In fact it is rather difficult to contemplate sleep when one is in the midst of such a thrilling adventure. Think of it, my prince—”

“Vandor,” I reminded him.

“Sometimes I forget,” he said; “but, anyway, as I was saying, think of the possibilities; think of the tremendous possibilities of this adventure; think of our situation.”

“I have been thinking of it,” I replied a little gloomily.

“In a few hours we shall be where no other Barsoomian has ever been— upon Thuria.”

“I am not so sure of that,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Take a look ahead,” I told him. “Do you see anything of Thuria?”

He looked out of one of the round ports and then turned to the other. “I don’t see Thuria,” he said.

“Neither do I,” I replied. “And do you realize what that suggests?”

He looked stunned for a moment. “You mean that we are not bound for Thuria—that the brain has erred?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“How far is it from Barsoom to Thuria?” he asked.

“A little over 15,700 haads,” I replied. “I estimated that we should complete the trip in about five zodes.”

Just then Thuria hurtled into view upon our right, and Jat Or voiced an exclamation of relief. “I have it,” he exclaimed.

“What?” I asked.

“Your mechanical brain is functioning better than ours,” he replied. “During the ten zodes of a Barsoomian day, Thuria revolves about our planet over three times; so while we were travelling to the path of her orbit she would encircle Barsoom one and a half times.”

“And you think the mechanical brain has reasoned that out?”

“Unquestionably,” he said; “and it will time our arrival to meet the satellite in its path.”

I scratched my head. “This raises another question that I had not thought of before,” I said.

“What is that?” asked Jat Or.

“The speed of our ship is approximately 3250 haads per zode, whereas Thuria is travelling at a rate of over 41,250 haads during the same period.”

Jat Or whistled. “Over twelve and a half times our speed,” he exclaimed. “How in the name of our first ancestor are we going to catch her?”

I made a gesture of resignation. “I imagine we shall have to leave that to the brain,” I said.

“I hope it doesn’t get us in the path of that hurtling mass of destruction,” said Jat Or.

“Just how would you make a landing if you were operating the ship with your own brain?” I asked.

“We’ve got to take Thuria’s force of gravity into consideration,” he said.

“That is just it,” I replied. “When we get into the sphere of her influence, we shall be pulled along at the same rate she is going; and then we can make a natural landing.”

Jat Or was looking out at the great orb of Thuria on our right. “How perfectly tremendous she looks,” he said.. “It doesn’t seem possible that we have come close enough to make her took as large as that.”

“You forget,” I said, “that as we approached her, we commenced to grow smaller—to proportion ourselves to her size. When we reach her surface, if we ever do, she will seem as large to us as Barsoom does when we are on its surface.”

“It all sounds like a mad dream to me,” said Jat Or.

“I fully agree with you,” I replied, “but you will have to admit that it is going to be a most interesting dream.”

As we sped on through space, Thuria hurtled across our bow and eventually disappeared below the Eastern rim of the planet that lay now so far below us.

Doubtless, when she completed another revolution, we should be within the sphere of her influence. Then, and not until then, would we know the outcome of this phase of our adventure.

I insisted now that Jat Or return to the cabin and get a few hours’ sleep, for none of us knew what lay in the future and to what extent our reserves of strength, both physical and mental, might be called upon.

Later on, I called Jat Or and lay down myself to rest. Through it all, Zanda slept peacefully; nor did she awaken until after I had had my sleep and returned to the control room.

Jat Or was sitting with his face glued to the starboard eye. He did not look back at me, but evidently he heard me enter the cabin.

“She is coming,” he said in a tense whisper. “Issus! What a magnificent and inspiring sight!”

I went to the port and looked out over his shoulder. There before me was a great world, one crescent edge illuminated by the sun beyond it. Vaguely I thought that I saw the contour of mountains and valleys, lighter expanses that might have been sandy desert or dead sea bottom, and dark masses that could have been forests. A new world! A world that no earthman nor any Barsoomian had ever visited.

I could have been thrilled beyond the power of words to express at the thought of the adventure that lay before me had my mind not been so overcast by fear for the fate of my princess. Thoughts of her dominated all others, yet they did not crowd out entirely the sense of magnificent mystery that the sight of this new world aroused within me.

Zanda joined us now; and as she saw Thuria looming ahead, she voiced a little exclamation of thrilled excitement. “We are very close,” she said.

I nodded. “It will not be long now before we know our fate,” I said. “Are you afraid?”

“Not while you are with me,” she answered simply.

Presently I realized that we had changed our course. Thuria seemed directly beneath us now instead of straight ahead. We were within the sphere of her influence, and were being dragged through space at her own tremendous velocity.

Now we were spiralling downward; the brain was functioning perfectly.

“I don’t like the idea of landing on a strange world at night,” said Jat Or.

“I am not so enthusiastic about it myself,” I agreed. “I think we had better wait until morning.”

I then directed the brain to drop to within about two hundred haads of the surface of the satellite and cruise slowly in the direction of the coming dawn.

“And now, suppose we eat while we are waiting for daylight,” I suggested.

“Is there food on board, master?” inquired Zanda.

“Yes,” I replied, “you will find it in the storeroom abaft the cabin.”

“I will prepare it, master, and serve you in the cabin,” she said.

As she left the control room, Jat Or’s eyes followed her. “She does not seem like a slave,” he said, “and yet she addresses you as though she were your slave.”

“I have told her that she is not,” I said, “but she insists upon maintaining that attitude. She was a prisoner in the house of Fal Sivas, and she was assigned to me there to be my slave. She really is the daughter of a lesser noble—a well-bred, intelligent, cultured girl.”

“And very beautiful,” said Jat Or. “I think she loves you, my prince.”

“Perhaps she thinks it is love,” I said, “but it is only gratitude. If she knew who I were, even her gratitude would be turned to hate. She has sworn to kill John Carter.”

“But why?” demanded Jat Or.

“Because he conquered Zodanga; because all her sorrows resulted from the fall of the city. Her father was killed; and, in grief, her mother took the last long journey upon the bosom of Iss; so you see she has good reason to hate John Carter, or at least she thinks she has.”

Presently Zanda called us, and we went into the cabin where she had a meal spread upon a folding table.

She stood to wait upon us, but I insisted that she sit with us and eat.

“It is not seemly,” she said, “that a slave should sit with her master.”

“Again I tell you that you are not my slave, Zanda,” I said. “If you insist upon retaining this ridiculous attitude, I shall have to give you away. Perhaps I shall give you to Jat Or. How would you like that?”

She looked up at the handsome young padwar seated opposite her. “Perhaps he would make a good master,” she said, “but I shall be slave to no one but Vandor.”

“But how could you help it if I gave you to him?” I asked. “What would you do about it?”

“I would kill either Jat Or or myself,” she replied.

I laughed and stroked her hand. “I would not give you away if I could,” I said.

“If you could?” she demanded. “Why can’t you?”

“Because I cannot give away a free woman. I told you once that you were free, and now I tell you again in the presence of a witness. You know the customs of Barsoom, Zanda. You are free now, whether you wish to be or not.”

“I do not wish to be free,” she said; “but if it is your will, Vandor, so be it.” She was silent for a moment, and then she looked up at me. “If I am not your slave,” she asked, “what am I?”

“Just at present, you are a fellow adventurer,” I replied, “an equal, to share in the joys and sorrows of whatever may lie before us.”

“I am afraid that I shall be more of a hindrance than a help,” she said, “but of course I can cook for you and minister to you. At least I can do those things which are a woman’s province.”

“Then you will be more of a help than a hindrance,” I told her. “And to make sure that we shall not lose you, I shall detail Jat Or to be your protector. He shall be responsible for your safety.”

I could see that this pleased Jat Or, but I could not tell about Zanda. I thought she looked a little hurt; but she flashed a quick sweet smile at the young padwar, as though she were afraid he might have guessed her disappointment and did not wish to hurt him.

As we cruised low over Thuria, I saw forests below us and meandering lines of a lighter color that I took to be brooks or rivers; and in the distance there were mountains. It seemed a most beautiful and intriguing world.

I could not be sure about the water because it was generally believed on Barsoom that her satellites were practically without moisture. However, I have known scientists to be mistaken.

I was becoming impatient. It seemed that daylight would never arrive, but at last the first rosy flush of dawn crept up behind the mountain tops ahead of us; and slowly the details of this strange world took form below us, as the scene in a photographic print takes magic form beneath the developer.

We were looking down upon a forested valley, beyond which low foothills, carpeted with lush vegetation, ran back to higher mountains in the distance.

The colors were similar to those upon Barsoom—the scarlet grasses, the gorgeous, strange-hued trees; but as far as our vision reached, we saw no living thing.

“There must be life there,” said Zanda, when Jat Or commented upon this fact.

“In all that wealth of beauty, there must be living eyes to see and to admire.”

“Are we going to land?” asked Jat Or.

“We came here to find Gar Nal’s ship,” I replied, “and we must search for that first.”

“It will be like looking for a tiny bead among the moss of a dead sea bottom,” said Jat Or.

I nodded. “I am afraid so,” I said, “but we have come for that purpose and that purpose alone.”

“Look!” exclaimed Zanda. “What is that—there, ahead?”


Swords of Mars - Contents    |     Chapter XVI - Invisible Foes


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