“I do not envy the next girl who offers one of those men a drink,” remarked Ero Shan.
We were taken to the headquarters of Banat, the Yorkokor who had caused our arrest; and he accompanied us to a still higher officer, a lotokor, or general; unless you are a Navy man, in which event you may call him an admiral. Banat explained the circumstances of our arrest, and repeated the statement that I had made to him at the time.
“Where are you from, if you are not from Falsa?” demanded the general. “Perhaps you are from Hangor or Maltor.”
“Ero Shan is from Havatoo,” I explained, “and I am from Korva, which lies beyond the mountain range to the south.”
“There is nothing beyond that mountain range,” said the general. “That is the end of the world. Were you to cross those mountains, you would fall into the sea of molten rock upon which Amtor floats.”
“There are many countries beyond those mountains,” I replied; “and I have lived in several of them ever since I first came to Amtor”
“Since you first came to Amtor!” exclaimed the general. “What do you mean by that? You must have been born on Amtor, and you couldn’t have lived anywhere before you were born.”
“I was not born on Amtor, “ I replied. “I was born in a world, which at its nearest approach to Amtor is 26,000,000 miles away.”
“The man is mad,” said the general. “There is no other world but Amtor.”
“I am not so mad,” I replied, “but that I can fight a gun and pilot a ship; and I would like the chance to do that for Panga until I can resume my search for my mate.”
“Your mate? Where is she?”
“She, too, was captured by the Falsans when our anotar was shot down, but she escaped from them the night before they attacked Hor.”
“What is an anotar?” he asked.
“It is a ship that flies in the air,” I replied. “Ero Shan, my mate, and I were trying to reach Korva in it when the Falsans shot us down.”
“A ship that flies in the air!” snorted the general. “First you tell me that you are from another world, and now you tell me that you ride around in a ship that flies in the air. Are you trying to insult my intelligence?”
“Possibly his last statement is true,” said Banat. “I was talking with some of the Falsan officers at the jong’s banquet last night, and they told me of this marvelous invention which they had shot down, in which two men and a woman were riding through the sky.”
“They were drunk,” snapped the general.
“They told me this before they had started to drink,” replied Banat. “I am sure that in this matter the man is speaking the truth.”
“Well, if you want to assume the responsibility for them,” said the general, “you may have them and assign them to such duties as you wish.”
After we left the general I told Banat that I was more familiar with the small scout ships than with any others, and that I had been a prisoner on the 975, which was in the plaza before the palace and that I was perfectly capable of piloting it.
Banat took us to his own home, which seemed strange to me until I discovered that he was tremendously interested in what I had told him about another world than Amtor. He questioned me at length and showed a very intelligent interest in my explanation of our solar system.
“You mean to say that Amtor is a round ball flying around the thing you call the Sun?” he demanded. “And that it turns all the way around every day? Why don’t we fall off when it’s upside down? There’s something, my friend, that you will have hard work explaining.”
So then I had to explain gravity to him, and I think he grasped in a vague sort of way, but anyway he was terribly impressed with my knowledge, and he admitted that what I had told him explained many things that had hitherto puzzled him; the one that impressed him most being an explanation of the transition from night to day, which occurred with regularity every so many hours.
“Another thing that has always puzzled me,” he said, “is how Amtor could float on a sea of molten rock without itself melting.”
The upshot of our conversation was that he became so sufficiently impressed with my experience and erudition that he agreed to let me pilot the 975 and have Ero Shan aboard as a gunner.
Ero Shan and I devoted the next few days to getting the 975 in shipshape condition and erasing all signs of the battle through which she had passed. For this purpose Banat had detailed a number of Pangan mechanics, and as he had attached no officers to the 975, I was in charge of the work.
About ten days after our arrival in Hor, Banat told me that we were ordered out with a fleet that was to take the field the next day against the City of Hangor, whose men had been conducting raids against the Pangan herds all during their war with Falsa. It was to be a punitive expedition in which the captured Falsan land fleet was to be used. Hangor, he told me, lay on the coast, about five hundred miles east of Hor; and that it was founded hundreds of years ago by outlaws from Hor and from Onar, the capital of Falsa, who had become roving bandits. He said that they were a bad lot, and now that the war with Falsa was over, the Pangans would devote themselves to the destruction of Hangor. He assigned six men to complete the crew of the 975, and again he failed to appoint any officer, with the result that I went out in command. It seemed a loose and careless way of doing things, but I was to learn that that was one of the failings of the Pangans. They are at heart not a military people, and they often act impulsively and without due deliberation.
I noticed that as we moved toward Hangor there was nowhere near the efficiency displayed that had been apparent when the fleet had been in the possession of the Falsans. The ships must have been strung out over a distance of twenty miles. No scout ships were sent ahead, nor were there any flankers. Even when the fleet was within fifty miles of Hangor it was still not in battle formation, nor were the men on the ships at their stations.
We were paralleling a range of low hills at the time, when suddenly a fleet of fast cruisers and scout ships debouched from a ravine, and before the commander of the Pangan fleet knew what was happening, his force had been cut in two. Chemical shells and t-rays were striking the big ships from all directions, and the little scouts were launching their wheeled torpedos as they ranged up and down our lines, almost without opposition.
The tactics of the Hangors was entirely different in some respects from that of the Falsans. Their fast cruisers ranged up alongside of our big ships, and as they were getting into position, fighting men poured up from the lower decks until the upper decks were filled; and then they poured over our rails and, with r-rays guns and swords, fell upon our officers and crews from the bridges to the lower decks; and all the while their wicked little scout ships raised havoc up and down the line.
I got into a dogfight with three of them and holding my own all right till one of their torpedos smashed my starboard track. That was the end of me as far as fighting was concerned; and when they saw that I was out of commission, they streaked off to continue harrassing the remainder of our fleet.
Within half an hour of the first attack many of our ships were disabled and the remainder were in full flight, many of them being pursued by fast cruisers and the little scouts.
“Here’s where we change navies,” said Ero Shan.
“It’s all right with me if they’ll have us,” I replied; “and almost any navy would be better than the Pangans’. I never saw such glaring inefficiency and stupidity in my life.”
“No wonder the Falsans said they were fools,” remarked Ero Shan.
“While nobody is paying any attention to us,” I said to Ero Shan, “let’s make a break for those hills.”
“An excellent idea,” he said; and then he turned to the Pangan members of our crew. “How about it?” he asked.
“They’d only catch us,” said one of the men; “and they’d kill us for trying to escape.”
“All right,” I said, “do as you please. Come on, Ero Shan,” and we jumped from the 975 and started for the hills.