Danlot shook his head. “You could accomplish nothing,” he said. “I have sent two scouting lantars to search the country for her.”
“That is kind of you,” I said.
He looked at me in surprise. “Evidently you do not understand,” he said. “Your mate has murdered one of our of fixers, or at least the evidence indicates as much and she must be brought to justice.”
I was appalled. “You cannot mean that!” I exclaimed. “It is quite obvious why she had to kill him. It is evident that he deserved to be killed.”
“We do not look at such matters that way,” replied Danlot.
“Vantor was a good officer, with years of training. He was extremely valuable to Falsa, much more valuable than forty women. And now,” he said, as though the incident were closed as far as I was concerned, “what can I do for you to show my appreciation of what you did yesterday?”
It took all the willpower I possessed not to tell him what I thought of his justice and his valuation of Duare, but I realized that if I were ever to help her I must not antagonize him; also there was budding in my mind the germ of an idea. “Ero Shan and I would like to help man one of the little fast scouting ships,” I said. “They seem to offer a far greater field of action than any of the others.”
He looked at me a moment before he replied, and then he said, “You like to fight, don’t you?”
“When there is anything to fight for,” I replied.
“What have you got to fight for here?” he asked. “You are not a Falsan, and you certainly have no quarrel with the Pangans, if what you have told me about yourself is true, as you never even heard of them until yesterday.”
“I should like to have the opportunity of winning in some measure the confidence and gratitude of Falsa,” I replied. “It might temper the judgment of the court when my mate is brought to trial.”
“You must hold your women in high esteem in your country,” he said.
“We do,” I replied; “in the highest esteem. A woman’s honor there would be worth the lives of forty Vantors.”
“We are different,” he said. “We consider women as necessary evils, and little more than that. I have paid more for a good zorat than most women bring. But to get back to your request—I am going to grant it. As you will be here the rest of your lives, you and your friend might as well learn to serve Falsa in some useful way.”
“Why do you say that we will be here the rest of our lives?” I asked.
“Because you will,” he replied. “It is absolutely impossible to cross the mountains which hem Anlap on the north and south. To the east is an ocean and you have no ship. To the west is an unknown land which no man has ever explored. And furthermore, I don’t think that you would be permitted to leave. You would know too many of our military secrets, and if by chance you could reach some other country, by the same token those people could reach us; and we have enough trouble with the Pangans without having men from some strange country making war upon us.”
After my interview with Danlot I sought out Ero Shan. “You don’t know it,” I said, “but you want to come with me and help man one of the fast little scouting ships.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
“I know you don’t, because I only just now got permission from Danlot for you and me to serve aboard one of the little ships.”
“That’s all right with me,” he said, “but just why do you want to do that?”
I told him about Duare then and that, as service on one of the scouting ships would permit us to range much farther than the main fleet, we might by chance find her, which we never could do aboard a big battleship.
“And then what would you do?” he asked. “The officer in command of the scouting ship would bring Duare back for trial, and you couldn’t do anything about it.”
“I think we could,” I said. “We would have learned how to operate the ship and we have our r-ray pistols—and there would be only five men to dispose of.”
Ero Shan nodded. “I see possibilities in that idea,” he said with a smile.
While we were still talking, an officer came up and told us that we had been ordered aboard the Athgan 975, which lay alongside the battleship. We immediately went to the lower deck and out through the door there, where we found the Athgan 975 awaiting us. The word “Athgan” means scout, and it is a compound of ath, meaning look, and gan, meaning man, which gives “look-man,” or scout.
The commander of the 975 was a rokor, or sub-lieutenant, named Ganjo. He didn’t seem very enthusiastic about having a couple of green men detailed to his ship. He asked us what we could do, and I told him that we were both gunners; so he set Ero Shan at a gun in the stern and me at one in the bow, which pleased me because it permitted me to sit beside the driver—I don’t know what else to call him, possibly pilot would be better.
There were seven men aboard the ship in addition to rokor—the pilot, four gunners, and two torpedomen. The gunners each had two guns, one firing chemical shells and the t-rays. The guns were double-barreled affairs, the t-ray barrel being on top of the chemical shell barrel, and clamped to it rigidly, so that only one set of sights was necessary. The guns protruded beyond the hull of the ship about three-quarters of their length, and could swing forty-five degrees in any direction. The port and starboard guns and the gun in the stern had a similar range of action. There was a torpedo tube on each side of the ship, so, with our great speed and maneuverability, we were a very dangerous little buggy. From the start I watched every movement that the pilot made and it was not long before I was confident that I could pilot the 975 myself and I was most anxious to try it.
The squadron to which the 975 was attached raced far ahead of the fleet, and I soon realized why the Falsans wore helmets, for, notwithstanding that we were strapped to our seats with safety belts, we were banged around considerably, as the little ship raced with terrific speed over all sorts of terrain.
Before noon we came in sight of a large city which I knew must be Hor. Up to this time we had not seen anything of an enemy fleet, but now their scout ships and destroyers came racing from one of the city’s gates. They far outnumbered us, and as we were merely a scouting force, our squadron commander ordered us to retire. We kept just out of effective range, and one of the athgans was detached and sent back to the main fleet to report to Danlot. We hung around waiting for the main body of the enemy fleet to come out, but they didn’t show themselves; and in the early afternoon our fleet put in an appearance, but it heralded itself long before it arrived, sending salvos of shells over our heads which burst inside the city; and the big guns of the city answered from the city walls.
Hor was rather an imposing-looking metropolis of considerable extent, and with tall buildings showing beyond its loft wall. It was a huge fortress, which looked absolutely impregnable; nor in ten years had Falsa been able to reduce it.
As we were watching the effect of the shell fire, I saw a direct hit by a thousand pound shell on one of the taller buildings. There was a terrific detonation and the building simply fell apart. We could hear the crash way out on the plain, and we saw the dust rise high above the city wall. The Pangans replied with a terrific bombardment, which demolished two of our dreadnaughts.
And now the fleet moved closer and I saw the two mighty monstrosities moving up. I asked the pilot what they were.
“Something new that’s never been used before,” he replied; “but if they work, the Pangans are in for the surprise of their lives.”
Just then three gates flew open and the whole Pangan fleet came out, firing. It seemed to me that it was a very stupid maneuver, for they were all bunched at the gates and offered a splendid target, and I said as much to the pilot.
“You never can tell what the Pangans are going to do,” he said. “Their jong probably got mad when that building was demolished and ordered the whole fleet out to punish us. Only about half their fleet was in the battle yesterday; so we will be in for some pretty hot fighting now. Here come the gantors!” he exclaimed. “Now we’ll see them in action.”
The two huge, torpedo-shaped ships were advancing at considerable speed, with a flock of protecting destroyers on either side. A huge Pangan battleship was coming to meet them, firing every gun that she could bring to bear; but the gantors, as the pilot had nicknamed them after an elephantine Amtorian beast of burden, came roaring on. The battleship, evidently sensing that she was going to be rammed, turned to run back, coming broadside to the nearer gantor, which suddenly leaped forward at terrific speed.
There was no hope for the battleship. The sharp, deadly, armored point of the gantor struck it amidships fifteen feet above the ground and rammed into it for fifty feet, firing its bow guns and its forward port and starboard guns, raking the whole interior of the battleship.
As it hung there a moment, finishing its work of destruction, the other gantor passed it, and you may rest assured the remainder of the Pangan fleet gave it a wide berth, opening up a broad path for it; and though there was no ship in front of it, it kept on straight toward the city.
The first gantor in the meantime backed out of the stricken battleship and, apparently unscathed, followed its companion. I saw now that each of them was headed for a gate, and I instantly recognized the real purpose for which they had been constructed. We followed close behind one of them with several other athgans. Behind us came a column of battleships.
“If we get inside the city,” said our rokor,” we are to take the first left-hand avenue. It leads to the barracks. That is the objective of our squadron. Shoot anyone who offers resistance.”
The gates of Hor are of wood covered with armorplate, but; when the gantor hit them, they crashed down upon the avenue beyond, and the gantors went over them and we followed, turning into the first avenue at the left.
Through the gates behind us the great battleships had rolled. On toward the center of the city they moved. We could hear the sound of the battle that was being carried into the heart of Hor as we made our way toward the barracks. This building, or series of buildings, we found along one side of an enormous parade ground.
The Pangans were certainly unprepared for anything of this sort. There was not a single gun ready to receive us, the men who rushed from the barracks having only their r-ray pistols and rifles, which were utterly useless against our armored athgan.
The battle went on in the city until almost dark. Falsan athgans ranged the avenues, striking terror to the hearts of her citizens, while the battleships massed in the great square before the jong’s palace and dealt death and destruction until the jong surrendered. But in the meantime the main body of the Pangan fleet had escaped through the rear gates of the city. However, Hor had been taken and the ten year war was supposedly over.
During the fighting in the city we had suffered three casualties on the 975. The pilot had been killed by a chance r-ray shot through an open port, as had our rokor, and the man at the port gun. I was not piloting the athgan, and as the pilot is supposed to rank directly beneath the rokor, I assumed command of the ship. The only reason I got away with it was because there was no superior officer to know about it and the three remaining Falsans were simple warriors who could have been commanded by anyone with initiative.