A Fighting Man of Mars

Five

To the Pits

Edgar Rice Burroughs


BELOW us, in the ever changing light of the two moons, stretched the weird landscape of Barsoomian night as our little craft sorely overloaded, winged slowly away from Xanator above the low bills that mark the southwestern boundary of the fierce, green hordes of Torquas. With the coming of the new day we discussed the advisability of making a landing and waiting until night before proceeding upon our journey, since we realized that should we be sighted by an enemy craft we could not possibly hope to escape.

“Few fliers pass this way,” said Tavia, “and if we keep a sharp lookout I believe that we shall be as safe in the air as on the ground for although we have passed beyond the limits of Torquas, there would still be danger from their raiding parties, which often go far afield.”

And so we proceeded slowly in the direction of Tjanath, our eyes constantly scanning the heavens in all directions.

The monotony of the landscape, combined with our slow rate of progress, would ordinarily have rendered such a journey unendurable to me, but to my surprise the time passed quickly, a fact which I attributed solely to the wit and intelligence of my companion for there was no gainsaying the fact that Tavia was excellent company. I think that we must have talked about everything upon Barsoom and naturally a great deal of the conversation revolved about our own experiences and personalities, so that long before we reached Tjanath I felt that I knew Tavia better than I had ever known any other woman and I was quite sure that I had never confided so completely in any other person.

Tavia had a way with her that seemed to compel confidences so that, to my own surprise, I found myself discussing the most intimate details of my past life, my hopes, ambitions and aspirations, as well as the fears and doubts which, I presume, assail the minds of all young men.

When I realized how fully I had unbosomed myself to this little slave girl, I experienced a distinct shock of embarrassment, but the sincerity of Tavia’s interest dispelled this feeling as did the realization that she had been almost as equally free with her confidences as had I.

We were two nights and a day covering the distance between Xanator and Tjanath and as the towers and landing stages of our destination appeared upon the distant horizon toward the end of the first zode of the second day, I realized that the hours that stretched away behind us to Xanator were, for some unaccountable reason, as happy a period as I had ever experienced.

Now it was over. Tjanath lay before us, and with the realization I experienced a distinct regret that Tjanath did not lie upon the opposite side of Barsoom.

With the exception of Sanoma Tora, I had never been particularly keen to be much in the company of women. I do not mean to convey the impression that I did not like them, for that would not be true. Their occasional company offered a diversion, which I enjoyed and of which I took advantage, but that I could be for so many hours in the exclusive company of a woman I did not love and thoroughly enjoy every minute of it would have seemed to me quite impossible; yet such had been the fact and I found myself wondering if Tavia had shared my enjoyment of the adventure.

“That must be Tjanath,” I said nodding in the direction of the distant city.

“Yes,” she replied.

“You must be glad that the journey is over,” I ventured.

She looked up at me quickly, her brows contracting suddenly in conjecture. “Perhaps I should be,” she replied enigmatically.

“It is your home,” I reminded her.

“I have no home,” she replied.

“But your friends are here,” I insisted.

“I have no friends,” she said.

“You forget Hadron of Hastor,” I reminded her.

“No,” she said, “I do not forget that you have been kind to me, but I remember that I am only an incident in your search for Sanoma Tora. Tomorrow, perhaps, you will be gone and we shall never see each other again.”

I had not thought of that and I found that I did not like to think about it, and yet I knew that it was true. “You will soon make friends here,” I said.

“I hope so,” she replied; “but I have been gone a very long time and I was so young when I was taken away that I have but the faintest of memories of my life in Tjanath. Tjanath really means nothing to me. I could be as happy anywhere else in Barsoom with—with a friend.”

We were now close above the outer wall of the city and our conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a flier, evidently a patrol, bearing down upon us. She was sounding an alarm—the shrill screaming of her horn shattering the silence of the early morning. Almost immediately the warning was taken up by gongs and shrieking sirens throughout the city. The patrol boat changed her course and rose swiftly above us, while from landing stages all about rose scores of fighting planes until we were entirely surrounded.

I tried to hail the nearer of them, but the infernal din of the warning signals drowned my voice. Hundreds of guns covered us, their crews standing ready to hurl destruction upon us.

“Does Tjanath always receive visitors in this hostile manner?” I inquired of Tavia.

She shook her head. “I do not know,” she replied. “Had we approached in a strange ship of war, I might understand it; but why this little scout flier should attract half the navy of Tjanath is—Wait!” she exclaimed suddenly. “The design and color of our flier mark its origin as Jahar. The people of Tjanath have seen this color before and they fear it; yet if that is true, why is it that they have not fired upon us?”

“I do not know why they did not fire upon us at first,” I replied, “but it is obvious why they do not now. Their ships are so thick about us that they could not fire without endangering their own craft and men.”

“Can’t you make them understand that we are friends?” she asked.

Immediately I made the signs of friendship and of surrender, but the ships seemed afraid to approach. The alarms had ceased and the ships were circling silently about us.

Again I hailed a nearby ship. “Do not fire,” I shouted; “we are friends.”

“Friends do not come to Tjanath in the blue death ships of Jahar,” replied an officer upon the deck of the ship I had hailed.

“Let us come alongside,” I insisted, “and at least I can prove to you that we are harmless.”

“You will not come alongside my ship,” he replied. “If you are friends you can prove it by doing as I instruct you.”

“What are your wishes?” I asked.

“Come about and take your flier beyond the city walls. Ground her at least a haad beyond the east gate and then, with your companion, walk toward the city.”

“Can you promise that we will be well received?” I asked.

“You will be questioned,” he replied, “and if you are all right, you have nothing to fear.”

“Very well,” I replied, “we will do as you say. Signal your other ships to make way for us,” and then, through the lane that they opened, we passed slowly back above the walls of Tjanath and came to the ground about a haad beyond the east gate.

As we approached the city the gates swung open and a detachment of warriors marched out to meet us. It was evident that they were very suspicious and fearful of us. The padwar in charge of them ordered us to halt while there were yet fully a hundred sofads between us.

“Throw down your weapons,” he commanded, “and then come forward.”

“But we are not enemies,” I replied. “Do not the people of Tjanath know how to receive friends?”

“Do as you are told or we will destroy you both,” was his only reply.

I could not refrain a shrug of disgust as I divested myself of my weapons, while Tavia threw down the short sword that I had loaned her. Unarmed we advanced toward the warriors, but even then the padwar was not entirely satisfied, for he searched our harness carefully before he finally conducted us into the city, keeping us well surrounded by warriors.

As the east gate of Tjanath closed behind us I realized that we were prisoners rather than the guests that we had hoped to be, but Tavia tried to reassure me by insisting that when they had heard our story we would be set at liberty and accorded the hospitality that she insisted was our due.

Our guards conducted us to a building that stood upon the opposite side of the avenue, facing the east gate, and presently we found ourselves upon a broad landing stage upon the roof of the building. Here a patrol flier awaited us and our padwar turned us over to the officer in charge, whose attitude toward us was marked by ill-concealed hatred and distrust.

As soon as we had been received on board the patrol flier rose and proceeded toward the center of the city.

Below us lay Tjanath, giving the impression of a city that had not kept abreast of modem improvements. It was marked by signs of antiquity; the buildings reflected the architecture of the ancients and many of them were in a state of disrepair, though much of the city’s ugliness was hidden or softened by the foliage of great trees and climbing vines, so that on the whole the aspect was more pleasing than otherwise. Toward the center of the city was a large plaza, entirely surrounded by imposing public buildings, including the palace of the Jed. It was upon the roof of one of these buildings that the flier landed.

Under a strong guard we were conducted into the interior of the building and after a brief wait were ushered into the presence of some high official. Evidently he had already been advised of the circumstances surrounding our arrival at Tjanath, for he seemed to be expecting us and was familiar with all that had transpired up to the present moment.

“What do you at Tjanath, Jaharian?” he demanded.

“I am not from Jahar,” I replied. “Look at my metal.”

“A warrior may change his metal,” he replied, gruffly.

“This man has not changed his metal,” said Tavia. “He is not from Jahar; he is from Hastor, one of the cities of Helium. I am from Jahar.”

The official looked at her in surprise. “So you admit it!” he cried.

“But first I was from Tjanath,” said the girl.

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“As a little child I was stolen from Tjanath,” replied Tavia. “All my life since I have been a slave in the palace of Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar. Only recently I escaped in the same flier upon which we arrived at Tjanath. Near the dead city of Xanator I landed and was captured by the green men of Torquas. This warrior, who is Hadron of Hastor, rescued me from them. Together we came to Tjanath, expecting a friendly reception.”

“Who are your people in Tjanath?” demanded the official.

“I do not know,” replied Tavia; “I was very young. I remember practically nothing about my life in Tjanath.”

“What is your name?”

“Tavia.”

The man’s interest in her story, which had seemed wholly perfunctory, seemed suddenly altered and galvanized.

“You know nothing about your parents or your family?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” replied Tavia.

He turned to the padwar who was in charge of our escort. “Hold them here until I return,” he said, and, rising from his desk, he left the apartment.

“He seemed to recognize your name,” I said to Tavia.

“How could he?” she asked.

“Possibly he knew your family,” I suggested; “at least his manner suggested that we are going to be given some consideration.”

“I hope so,” she said.

“I feel that our troubles are about over, Tavia,” I assured her; “and for your sake I shall be very happy.”

“And you, I suppose,” she said, “will endeavor to enlist aid in continuing your search for Sanoma Tora?”

“Naturally,” I replied. “Could anything less be expected of me?”

“No,” she admitted in a very low voice.

Notwithstanding the fact that something in the demeanor of the official who had interrogated us had raised my hope for our future, I was still conscious of a feeling of depression as our conversation emphasized the near approach of our separation. It seemed as though I had always known Tavia, for the few days that we had been thrown together had brought us very close indeed. I knew that I should miss her sparkling wit, her ready sympathy and the quiet companionship of her silences, and then the beautiful features of Sanoma Tora were projected upon memory’s screen and, knowing where my duty lay, I cast vain regrets aside, for love, I knew, was greater than friendship and I loved Sanoma Tora.

After a considerable lapse of time the official re-entered the apartment. I searched his face to read the first tidings of good news there, but his expression was inscrutable; however, his first words, addressed to the padwar, were entirely understandable.

“Confine the woman in the East Tower,” he said, “and send the man to the pits.”

That was all. It was like a blow in the face. I looked at Tavia and saw her wide eyes upon the official. “You mean that we are to be held as prisoners?” she demanded; “I, a daughter of Tjanath, and this warrior who came here from a friendly nation seeking your aid and protection?”

“You will each have a hearing later before the Jed,” snapped the official. “I have spoken. Take them away.”

Several of the warriors seized me rather roughly by the arms. Tavia had turned away from the official and was looking at me. “Good-bye, Hadron of Hastor!” she said. “It is my fault that you are here. May my ancestors forgive me!”

“Do not reproach yourself, Tavia,” I begged her, “for who might have foreseen such a stupid reception?”

We were taken from the apartment by different doorways and there we turned, each for a last look at the other, and in Tavia’s eyes there were tears, and in my heart.

The pits of Tjanath, to which I was immediately conducted, are gloomy, but they are not enveloped in impenetrable darkness as are the pits beneath most Barsoomian cities. Into the dungeon dim light filtered through the iron grating from the corridors, where ancient radium bulbs glowed faintly. Yet it was light and I gave thanks for that, for I have always believed that I should go mad imprisoned in utter darkness.

I was heavily fettered and unnecessarily so, it seemed to me, as they chained me to a massive iron ring set deep in the masonry wall of my dungeon, and then, leaving me, locked also the ponderous iron grating before the doorway.

As the footfalls of the warriors diminished to nothingness in the distance I heard the faint sound of something moving nearby me in my dungeon. What could it be? I strained my eyes into the gloomy darkness.

Presently, as my eyes became more accustomed to the dim light in my cell, I saw the figure of what appeared to be a man crouching against the wall near me. Again I heard a sound as he moved and this time it was accompanied by the rattle of a chain, and then I saw a face turn toward me, but I could not distinguish the features.

“Another guest to share the hospitality of Tjanath,” said a voice that came from the blurred figure beside me. It was a clear voice—the voice of a man—and there was a quality to its timbre that I liked.

“Do our hosts entertain many such as we?” I asked.

“In this cell there was but one,” he replied; “now there are two. Are you from Tjanath or elsewhere?”

“I am from Hastor, city of the Empire of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium.”

“You are a long way from home,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied; “and you?”

“I am from Jahar,” he answered. My name is Nur An.”

“And mine is Hadron,” I said. “Why are you here?”

“I am a prisoner because I am from Jahar,” he replied. “What is your crime?”

“It is that they think I am from Jahar,” I told him.

“What made them think that? Do you wear the metal of Jahar?”

“No, I wear the metal of Helium, but I chanced to come to Tjanath in a Jaharian flier.”

He whistled. “That would be hard to explain,” he said.

“I found it so,” I admitted. “They would not believe a word of my story, nor of that of my companion.”

“You had a companion, then?” he asked. “Where is he?”

“It was a woman. She was born in Tjanath, but for long years had been a slave in Jahar. Perhaps later they will believe her story, but for the present we are in prison. I heard them order her to the East Tower, while they sent me here to the prison.”

“And here you will stay until you rot, unless you are lucky enough to be called for the games, or unlucky enough to be sentenced to The Death.”

“What is The Death?” I asked, my curiosity piqued by his emphasis of the words.

“I do not know,” he replied. “The warriors who come here often speak of it as though it was something quite horrible. Perhaps they do it to frighten me, but if that is true, then they have had very little satisfaction, for, whether or not I have been frightened, I have not let them see it.”

“Let us hope for the games, then,” I said.

“They are dull and stupid people here in Tjanath,” said my companion. “The warriors have told me that sometimes many years elapse between games in the arena, but we may hope at least, for surely it would be better to die there with a good long sword in one’s hand rather than to rot here in the darkness, or die The Death, whatever it may be.”

“You are right,” I said. “Let us beseech our ancestors that the Jed of Tjanath decrees games in the near future.”

“So you are from Hastor,” he said, musingly, after a moment’s silence. “That is a long way from Tjanath. Pressing must have been the service that brought you so far afield!”

“I was searching for Jahar,” I replied.

“Perhaps you are as well off that you found Tjanath first,” he said, “for, though I am a Jaharian, I cannot boast the hospitality of Jahar.”

“You think I would not have been accorded a cordial welcome there, then?” I asked.

“By my first ancestor, no,” he exclaimed most emphatically. “Tul Axtar would have had you in the pits before he asked your name, and the pits of Jahar are not as light nor as pleasant as these.”

“I did not intend that Tul Axtar should know that I was visiting him,” I said.

“You are a spy?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “The daughter of the commander of the umak to which I was attached was abducted by Jaharians, and, I have reason to believe, by the orders of Tul Axtar himself. To effect her rescue was the object of my journey.”

“You tell this to a Jaharian?” he asked lightly.

“With perfect impunity,” I replied. “In the first place, I have read in your words and your tone that you are no friend to Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar, and, secondly, there is evidently little chance that you ever will return to Jahar.”

“You are right in both conjectures,” he said. “I most assuredly have no love for Tul Axtar. He is a beast, hated by all decent men. The cause of my hatred for him so closely parallels your own reason to hate Tul Axtar that we are indeed bound by a common tie.”

“How is that?” I demanded.

“All my life I have never felt aught but contempt for Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar, but this contempt was not transmuted into hatred until he stole a woman, and it was the stealing of a woman, also, that directed your venom against him.”

“A woman of your family?” I asked.

“My sweetheart, the woman I was to marry,” replied Nur An. “I am a noble. My family is of ancient lineage and great wealth. For these reasons Tul Axtar knew that he had good cause to fear me, and urged on by this fear, he confiscated my property and sentenced me to death, but I have many friends in Jahar and one of these, a common warrior of the guard, connived at my escape after I had been imprisoned in the pits.

“I made my way to Tjanath and told my story to Haj Osis, the Jed, and, laying my sword at his feet, I offered him my services, but Haj Osis is a suspicious old fool and saw in me only a spy from Jahar. He ordered me to the pits and here I have lain for a long time.”

“Jahar must be, indeed, an unhappy country,” I said, “ruled over, as she is, by such a man as Tul Axtar. Recently I have heard much of him, but as yet I have not heard him credited with a single virtue.”

“He has none,” said Nur An. “He is a cruel tyrant, rotten with corruption and vice. If any of the great powers of Barsoom could have guessed what was in his mind, Jahar would have been reduced long ago and Tul Axtar destroyed.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“For at least two hundred years Tul Axtar has fostered a magnificent dream, the conquest of all Barsoom. During all this time he has made manpower his fetish; no eggs might be destroyed, each woman being compelled to preserve all that she laid. (Note: Martians are oviparous.) An army of officials and inspectors took a record of the production of each female. Those that had the greatest number of males were rewarded; the unproductive were destroyed. When it was discovered that marriage tended to reduce the productivity of the females of Jahar, marriage among any classes beneath the nobility was proscribed by imperial edict.

“The result has been an apalling increase in population until many of the provinces of Jahar cannot support the incalculable numbers that swarm like ants in a hill. The richest agricultural land upon Barsoom could not support such numbers; every natural resource has been exhausted; millions are starving, and in large districts cannibalism is prevalent.

“During all this time Tul Axtar’s officers have been training the males for war. From earliest consciousness the thought of war has been implanted within their minds. To war and to war alone do they look for relief from the hideous conditions which oppress them until today countless millions are clamoring for war, realizing that victory means loot, and that loot means food and riches. Already Tul Axtar commands an army of such vast proportions that the fate of Barsoom might readily lie in the palm of his hand were it not for but a single obstacle.”

“And what is that?” I asked.

“Tul Axtar is a coward,” replied Nur An. “Having fulfilled his dream of manpower, he is afraid to use it lest by some accident of fate his military plans should fail and his troops meet defeat. Therefore, he has waited while he urged on the scientists of Jahar to produce some weapon that would be so far superior in its destructive power to anything possessed by any other nation of Barsoom that his armies would be invincible.

“For years the best minds of Jahar labored with the problem until at last one of our most eminent scientists, an old man named Phor Tak, developed a rifle of amazing properties.

“The success of Phor Tak aroused the jealousies of other scientists, and though the old man had given Tul Axtar what he sought, yet the tyrant showed no gratitude, and Phor Tak was subjected to such indignities and oppressions that eventually he fled from Jahar.

“That, however, is of no import; all that Phor Tak could do for Tul Axtar he had done, and with the new rifle in his possession, the Jeddak was glad to be rid of the old scientist.”

Naturally I was much interested in the rifle which Nur An had mentioned and I hoped that he would go into a further and more detailed description of it, but I dared not suggest that for fear that the natural loyalty which every man feels for the country of his birth might restrain him from divulging her military secrets to a stranger. I was to learn, however, that those lofty sentiments of patriotism, which are a part of every man of Helium, were induced as much by the love and respect in which we held our great jeddaks as by our natural attachment to the land of our birth; while, upon the other hand, the Jaharians looked only with contempt and loathing upon the head of their state and feeling no loyalty for him, who was in effect the state, they looked upon patriotism as nothing more than an empty catchword, which an unworthy master had used to his own end until it had become meaningless, and so, while at the moment I was surprised, I later came to understand why it was that Nur An voluntarily explained in detail to me all that he knew about the strange new weapon of Jahar and the means of defense against it.

“This new rifle,” he continued after a moment’s silence, “would render all the other armies and navies of Barsoom impotent before us. It projects an invisible ray, the vibrations of which effect such a change in the constitution of metals as to cause them to disintegrate. I am not a scientist; I do not fully understand the exact explanation of the phenomenon, but from what I was able to gather while the new weapon was being discussed in Jahar I am under the impression that these rays change the polarity of the protons in metallic substances, releasing the whole mass as free electrons. I have also heard the theory expounded that Phor Tak, in his investigation, discovered that the fundamental principle underlying time, matter and space are identical, and that what the rays projected from his rifle really accomplish is to translate any mass of metal upon which it is directed into the most elementary constituents of space.

“But be that as it may, Tul Axtar had the manpower and the weapon, yet still he hesitated. He was afraid and he sought for some excuse further to delay the war of conquest and loot which his millions of subjects now demanded, and to this end he hit upon the plan of insisting upon some medium of defense against this new rifle, basing his demands upon the possibility that some other power might also have discovered a similar weapon or would eventually, by the use of spies or informers, learn the secret from Jahar. Probably greatly to his surprise and unquestionably to his embarrassment, a man who had been an assistant in Phor Tak’s laboratory presently developed a substance which dissipated the rays of the new weapon, rendering them harmless. With this substance, which is of a bluish color, the metal portions of the ships, weapons and harness of Jahar are now painted.

“But yet again Tul Axtar postponed his war, insisting upon the production of an enormous quantity of the new rifles and a mighty fleet of warships upon which to mount them. Then, he says, he will sail forth and conquer all Barsoom.”

The destruction of the patrol boat above Helium the night of the abduction of Sanoma Tora was now quite clear to me, and when Nur An told me later that Tul Axtar had sent experimental fliers to attack Tjanath, I understood why it was that the blue flier in which Tavia and I had arrived had caused such consternation, but the thought that upset my mind almost to the exclusion of the plight of Sanoma Tora was that somewhere in the thin air of dying Barsoom a great Heliumetic fleet was moving to attack Jahar, or at least that was what I supposed since I had no reason to doubt that the message that I had given to the majordomo of Tor Hatan’s palace had not been delivered to the Warlord. To lie here enchained in the pits of Tjanath, while the great fleet of Helium sped to its destruction, filled me with horror. With my own eyes had I seen the effects of this terrible new weapon and I knew that it was no idle dream upon the part of Nur An when he had stated that with it Tul Axtar could conquer a world; but there was a defense against it. If I could but regain my freedom, I might not only warn the ships of Helium and save them from inevitable doom, but also in connection with my quest for Sanoma Tora in the city of Jahar, I might discover the secret of the defense against the weapon which the Jaharians had evolved.

Freedom! Before it had only seemed the most desirable thing in the world; now it had become imperative.


A Fighting Man Of Mars - Contents    |     Six - Sentenced to Die


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