Damis' eyes lighted as Turgan spoke.
"Your plans are good," he cried, "and I will fly the ship for you. In return I ask but one thing: let mine be the hand which strikes Glavour down."
"If it can be so done, yours shall be the hand, oh Nepthalim!" cried the Akildare who had first spoken of the ship. Turgan bowed his head and a murmur of assent came from the assembled council.
"And now for action!" cried Turgan. "There is no need to talk longer. Years ago our plans were perfected for the capture of the space ship and each knows the part assigned to him. Toness, the Akildare, will rule during my absence, for I will command the ship, under Damis. Twelve of our men who know all that we have been able to learn will make up the crew. None of them will take any part in the capture of the ship for many lives may be lost in that venture and we will need the instructed men to operate the ship after we capture it. Damis, have you any addition to make to our plans?"
"Only one, Turgan. Glavour will ransack the Earth rather than be cheated of one he has marked for his prey. Lura will be safe nowhere on Earth. Her capture by the Sons of God will discourage the timid who will say that if Turgan cannot protect his own daughter, how can he free the Earth? She must go with us."
"Your point is well taken, Damis," replied the Kildare. "She shall go. Now to action! Monaill, are your men ready?"
"They will assemble at my signal, oh, Kildare."
"Give the signal, for nothing will be gained by delay. We will follow behind while you capture the ship."
Monaill bowed before the Kildare and hastened from the council room. In a few words Turgan gave to Toness the final orders for the conduct of the conspiracy during his absence. Followed by Lura, Damis and three of the council, he made his way to a hidden doorway. Along an underground passage they made their way for a quarter of a mile. A group of figures was seen dimly ahead of them and nine men joined the party. Turgan identified them to Damis as the balance of the crew.
"Has Monaill passed this way?" he asked.
"He passed with his band a few moments ago, oh, Kildare," replied one of the men. "See, there is the light which summons us to follow."
He pointed to a tiny light which had suddenly flashed into brilliance. Turgan nodded and led the way forward. At another doorway which opened to Turgan's touch on a hidden lever, the party paused. An instant later there came from a few hundred yards ahead of them a hoarse cry of alarm followed by the roar of a huge whistle.
"The battle has joined!" cried Turgan. The others crouched, tense and motionless. From ahead came the sound of battle. Violet light showed in short intense flashes. It was evident that the Jovian guard of the space ship was fighting valiantly to protect it. Shaking aside Turgan's restraining hand, Damis crept slowly forward.
Two hundred yards from the spot where he left Turgan he came to a bend in the passage. The sound of battle came from just ahead. He crept forward and peered around the corner. The passage emerged from the ground and gave way to a huge open space which he recognized as part of the grounds of the Viceregal palace. Standing on a launching platform was a Jovian space ship around which a battle raged.
Five of the huge Jovians were battling furiously with a score of Earthmen. Three dead Jovians and a dozen crushed forms of Terrestrials testified to the bitterness of the fight. The terrible black tubes of the Jovians were exhausted and the battle was now being waged hand to hand, Jovian ax against Earthly sword. The Terrestrials were being gradually pressed back.
A shout came from the distance and Damis could see a dozen Jovian guards hastening toward the scene of the fight, brandishing in their hands the terrible black tubes. He turned back and shouted to Turgan.
"Hasten!" he cried. "In a moment, Monaill and his men will be overthrown!"
With a shout the crouching group of Terrestrials rushed toward him, but Damis did not wait. The oncoming Jovians were several hundred yards away when he threw himself into the fray. At his appearance, a cry of dismay went up from the Earthmen which was changed to one of mingled wonder and triumph as Damis seized the nearest Jovian and bore the fellow down despite his struggles. It was a matter of seconds for him to break the bull neck of the huge guard and he turned to grasp another. The four remaining Jovians backed away but Damis was not to be denied. He rushed in and grasped another about the waist, avoiding the swing of the forty-pound ax, and dragged him back. The swords of the Terrestrials pierced the struggling guard from the rear and Damis rushed toward the three survivors.
Heartened by his aid, the remnants of Monaill's band charged with him. Two of the Jovians fell before the swords of the Earthmen and the third went down before a blow of Damis' fist. As he turned back to the ship, Turgan, followed by the crew of the ship, dashed up.
"Into the ship!" cried Damis. A glance showed that the Jovian guards were less than two hundred yards away and were coming on in huge leaps. The door of the space ship was open and the band of Terrestrials clambered in.
"Quick, Damis!" came Lura's voice.
The Nepthalim turned to enter but his gaze fell on the six survivors of Monaill's band.
"In with you!" he cried sharply.
The Terrestrials hesitated but Damis grasped the nearest of them by the belt and threw him bodily into the ship. The others hesitated no longer but clambered in. The Jovians were less than fifty yards away and already deep violet flashes began to come from the tubes they carried. Damis stooped and grasped one of the dead Jovians. With an effort possible to only two men on Earth, himself and Glavour, he raised the body above his head and hurled it straight at the oncoming Jovians. His aim was true and three of them were swept from their feet. With a mighty bound, Damis sprang through the door of the space ship and the airlock clanged shut behind him.
The crew of the ship were already in place, awaiting orders. There was no time for instruction and Damis leaped to the control board. He pulled a lever far down and in an instant the entire crew was flat on the floor as though an enormous weight had pressed them down. With a superhuman effort, Damis raised himself enough to cut off the power. The ship shot on through the rapidly thinning air, its sides glowing a dull red. The heat inside the ship was almost intolerable.
As the pressure of the enormous acceleration ceased, the bruised Terrestrials struggled to their feet. Damis turned to another lever and a breath of icy air swept through the ship.
"This will help for an instant," he gasped, "and the cold of space will soon cool us down. I had to give the ship a tremendous start or the tubes of the Sons of God would have reduced us to elemental atoms. Keep away from the walls and don't exert yourselves. I can handle the ship alone for the present."
For half an hour the ship charged on through space. Damis presently pulled the control lever down and placed the ship under power. The walls changed from dull red to black and the temperature in the ship grew noticeably lower. Damis made his way to one of the walls and tested it with a moistened finger.
"It's cool enough to touch," he announced. "Fortunately the insulating vacuum between the inner and the outer skins was at its maximum, otherwise we would have been roasted alive. The external wall was almost at the fusing point. We can move around now."
He posted lookouts at the observing instruments with which the ship was equipped and instructed them in their duties and the manipulation of the instruments. He placed one man at the control lever of the stern rocket-motors. As he turned away from the control board he saw Lura standing quietly in a corner. He opened his arms and she ran to them with a cry of joy.
"Oh, Damis, I was so afraid for you," she gasped, "and I wanted to hug you when you jumped in and Father closed the lock behind you but I knew that you had to take care of the ship. Were you hurt at all?"
"Not a bit, darling," he assured her, "but it was touch and go for a moment. I didn't know whether the guards would dare to disintegrate the ship without orders from Glavour. In any event, the blasts of the stern motors must have hurled them half a mile. No strength could stand the blast of gas to which they were subjected. Are you all right?"
"Perfectly," she replied; "I never was in any danger. I was the first one in the ship and the only chance I had to be hurt was to have you overcome and the ship recaptured. In that case, I had this."
She displayed a small dagger which she drew from the bosom of her robe. Damis shuddered and took the weapon from her.
"Poisoned," he exclaimed as he glanced at its tip. "You had better let me take care of it. You might fall and prick yourself with it."
She surrendered the weapon to him with a smile and Damis placed it in a cabinet built against the wall of the flyer.
"Now go in and lie down," he told her. "I've got to start plotting a course to Mars and teaching my crew how to operate the ship."
"Can't I learn, too?" she objected. "If anything should happen, it might be quite a useful bit of knowledge. Besides, I already understand celestial geography quite well and I may be able to help in the navigation."
Damis looked at her in surprise.
"You a celestial geographer?" he asked in astonishment. "Where did you learn it?"
"From my father. He was a famous heaven-master before the Jovians came and he taught me."
"That's excellent!" cried Damis. "I didn't realize we had so much knowledge at our command. Turgan, will you take charge of the navigating after I plot a course? Lura can assist you. Now, the rest of you attend to my words and I'll teach you how to operate the rocket motors."
The Jovian ship was built along very simple lines. Batteries of rocket motors at the bow and stern and on each of the sides furnished both motive and steering power. The Terrestrials were all chosen men and in three hours Damis announced himself as satisfied with their ability to operate the ship under any normal conditions. With Turgan and Lura watching and checking his calculations, he plotted a course which would intercept Mars on its orbit.
"Luckily, Mars is approaching us now," he said, "and we won't have a stern chase, which is always a long one. We will be able to reach Mars, spend several days on it and return to Earth before ships can reach the Earth from Jupiter, even if they are already on the way, which is highly probable. I'll turn the ship a little."
Under his direction, the crew turned the ship in its course until it was headed for the point in space where Damis planned to intercept the red planet. With the course set to his satisfaction, he gave orders for the stern motors to be operated at such a power as to give the highest acceleration consistent with comfort for the crew. There were no windows in the ship but two observers seated at instruments kept the entire heavens under constant observation. Damis motioned one of them to stand aside and told Lura to take his place. She sat down before a box in which were set two lenses, eye-distance apart. She looked through the lenses and gave a cry of astonishment. Before her appeared the heavens in miniature with the entire galaxy of stars displayed to her gaze. In the center of the screen was a large disk thickly marked with pocks.
"The moon," explained Damis. "We are headed directly toward it now but we'll shift and go around it. We'll pass only a few hundred miles from its surface, but unfortunately it will be between us and the sun and you'll be able to see nothing. Look in the other observer."
Lura turned to the second instrument. A large part of the hemisphere was blotted out by the Earth which was still only a few thousand miles away. The sun showed to one side of the Earth, but a movable disk was arranged in the instrument by means of which it could be shut off from the gaze of the observer. Despite the presence of the sun, the stars shone brilliantly in the intense black of space.
"How fast are we traveling?" asked Lura.
"It is impossible to tell exactly," he replied. "I can approximate our speed by a study of the power consumed in our stern motors and again I can approximate it by a series of celestial observations, provided we do not have to change our course while I am doing so."
"Isn't there some sort of an instrument which will tell you how fast we are going?" she asked in astonishment.
"Unfortunately not. We are traveling through no medium which is dense enough to register on an instrument. Our course is not straight, but is necessarily an erratic one as we are subject to the gravimetric pull of all of the celestial bodies. Just now the Earth supplies most of the pull on us but as soon as we approach the moon, we will tend to fall on it and frequent sideblasts will be needed to keep us away from it. Once we get up some speed that is comparable with light, we can measure by direct comparison, but our speed is too low for that now."
"I saw you lay out your course, but how are we steering?"
"The observer who works on the front instrument keeps a cross hair on a fixed star. When the curving of the ship deviates us more than five degrees from our course, a side motor is turned on until we straighten out again. It is quite a simple matter and I'll take the ship myself when we near Mars. There is no need to be frightened."
"I'm not frightened," said Lura quickly; "I was just curious. Is there any danger of hitting a wandering body?"
"Not much in this zone and at this speed. When our speed picks up there will be a slight danger because the higher our rate of speed, the more crowded space becomes. If we were going to Jupiter we would have to use much more caution. The asteroid belt lying between Mars and Jupiter is really crowded with small bodies but comparatively few are in the zone between Earth and Mars. That is one thing I figured on when I said that we would have plenty of time to go to Mars and back before ships could come from Jupiter. Ships from Jupiter would be able to develop a much higher speed than we will attain were it not for the asteroid belt. They will have to travel quite slowly through it, in portions, not over a few thousand miles per minute, while we are not held down that way. Now that we are really started, it will be best to set regular watches. I will assign you as navigator for one watch if you wish."
"I certainly do want to do my share."
"All right, we'll let it go that way. Turgan and I will take the other two watches until we get there."
"How soon will that be?"
"About seventeen days. Mars happens to be only about forty million miles away just now. Now I'll set the watches and divide the crew."
A short examination showed Damis that his crew were intelligent and that his instruction had been good. Every member knew his duties. Instead of the two twelve-hour watches which were usual on space flyers, the additional members of the crew who had been part of Monaill's band enabled Damis to set only eight-hour shifts. Each member of the crew was taught to operate the offensive ray projectors with which the flyer was equipped.
Things soon settled down to routine. No wandering celestial bodies came close enough to cause them any real alarm. Once the novelty of hurtling through space had passed away, the trip became monotonous. The Earth, which had at first filled the field of one of the observers, dwindled until it became merely a brilliant green star. The red speck which was Mars grew constantly more prominent as the hours went by and Damis gave the word to turn on the bow motors and retard the speed of the flyer. Several of the crew had worked in the communications net which Glavour had thrown around the Earth and under orders from Turgan, they began to call the red planet on the ship's communicator.
"It is well to let them know who we are," he said to Damis when he gave the order. "We are flying a Jovian ship and since we have come so far successfully, I have no desire to be blasted out of space by their powerful weapons of defense."
Damis agreed heartily, and for twelve hours continual attempts were made to communicate with their destination. At last their signals were answered. Despite the differences in language, they had no trouble in understanding the messages. A system of communication based not on words or sound forms, but on thought forms, had been introduced to the Earth by the Jovians and both Damis and Turgan were quite familiar with it. The Martians informed them that the approaching ship had been sighted and carefully watched for several days. As soon as he learned who the occupants were, the Grand Mognac of Mars sent a message of welcome and instructed them on what part of the planet to land. He promised that a deputation would meet them with transportation to his capital city where he would welcome them in person and supply them with the weapons they sought.
The Doom on Mars Two days later Damis dropped the ship gently to the ground in a wide and deep depression which had been designated as their landing place. The Grand Mognac had assured them that the depression held enough atmosphere to enable them to breathe with comfort. There was no one in sight when they landed and after a short consultation, Damis and Turgan entered the airlock. In a few moments they stood on the surface of Mars.
They had landed in a desert without even a trace of the most rudimentary vegetation. Barren slate-colored mountains shut off their view at a distance of a few miles. When they strove to move they found that the conditions which had confronted the Jovians in their first landing on the Earth were duplicated. The lesser gravity of the smaller planet made their strength too great for easy control and the slightest effort sent them yards into the air. This condition had been anticipated and at a word from Damis, lead weights, made to clamp on the soles of their sandals were passed out from the space ship. Although this enabled them to keep their footing when moving over the dry surface of Mars, the slightest exertion in the thin air caused them acute distress.
"We had better save our strength until the messengers of the Grand Mognac arrive," said Damis at length. "We may have quite a trip before us."
Turgan agreed and they sat down by the side of the ship where its shadow would shield them from the fierce solar rays which beat down on them. The sun looked curiously small, yet its rays penetrated the thin air with a heat and fierceness strange to them. Lura and a half dozen of the crew were passed through the airlock and joined them.
"I am surprised that the Martians have not arrived," said Damis presently. "I am interested to see what their appearance is."
Hardly had he spoken than the air before them seemed to thicken in a curious fashion. Lura gave a cry of alarm and pressed close to Damis. The sun's rays penetrated with difficulty through a patch of air directly before them. Gradually the mistiness began to assume a nebulous uncertain outline and separated itself into four distinct patches. The thickening air took on a silvery metallic gleam and four metallic cylinders made their appearance. Two of them were about eight feet in height and three feet in diameter. The other two were fully thirty feet in length and about the same diameter. On the top of each one was a projecting cap shaped like a mushroom and from it long tenuous streamers of metal ran the full length of each cylinder. From the ether came a thought wave which registered on the brains of all the Terrestrials.
"The Grand Mognac of Mars sends his greeting and a welcome to the visitors from Earth," the message ran. "Before his envoys make their appearance before you, we wish to warn you to be prepared for a severe shock for their physical appearance is not that of the life with which you are familiar. I would suggest that you turn your heads while we emerge from our transporters."
Obediently the Earthmen turned their gaze toward their ship until another thought wave ordered them to turn. Lura gave a cry of horror and Damis instinctively raised one of the Jovian ray tubes. Before them were huge figures which seemed to have stepped out of a nightmare, so grotesque were their forms.
The Martians had long slug-like bodies, twenty-five feet in length, from which projected a multiplicity of short legs. The legs on the rear portions of the bodies terminated in sucker-like disks on which they stood on the surface of the planet. The upper part of the body was raised from the ground and the legs terminated in forked appendages like hands. Stiff, coarse hair, brown in color, protruded from between brilliant green scales, edged with crimson. The heads were huge and misshapen and consisted mostly of eyes with a multitude of facets and huge jaws which worked incessantly as though the slugs were continually chewing on something. Nothing that the Earth could show resembled those monstrosities, although it flashed across Damis' mind that a hugely enlarged caricature of an intelligent caterpillar would bear some resemblance to the Martians. Another thought wave impinged on the consciousness of the Terrestrials.
"Mars is much older than your planet and evolution has gone much farther here than it has on the Earth. At one time there were forms of life similar to yours which ruled this planet, but as air and water became scarce, these forms gave way to others which were better suited to conditions as they existed. I would be pleased to explain further, but the Grand Mognac anxiously awaits his guests. His orders are that two of you shall visit him in his city. The two whom he desires to come are Turgan, the leader of the expedition and Damis, the Nepthalim. Fear nothing, you are among friends."
Damis hesitated and cast a glance at Lura.
"By all means, Damis, do as the Grand Mognac bids you," she exclaimed. "I will stay here with the ship until you return. I am not at all frightened, for the whole crew will be here with me."
Damis kissed her and after a word with Turgan, he announced their readiness to proceed. He inquired the direction in which they should travel, but another thought wave interrupted him.
"We have brought transportation for you," it said. "Each of you will enter one of the smaller transporters which were especially prepared for your use. When you enter them, seal them tightly and place your feet in the stirrups you will find in them. Grasp the handles which will be before you firmly in your hands. In an instant you will be dissolved into elemental atoms and carried on a beam of force to the receiving focus where you will again be materialized. There is no danger and no pain. It is our usual means of transportation."
With a final word of farewell to Lura and the crew, Turgan and Damis unfastened and entered the two smaller cylinders. Before the astonished eyes of the Terrestrials the cylinders grew thin and vanished like a puff of smoke dissipating in a wind. Lura turned to Kastner whom Turgan had left in command.
"What were my father's orders?" she asked.
"Merely that we wait here until his return," he replied. "Since we are among friends, there is no need to keep the ray projectors manned and I am anxious to let all of the crew have the experience of setting foot on a new planet."
"I am a little tired," said Lura. "I will return to the ship and rest while you let the crew try their footing on Mars."
She entered the airlock and in a few moments was again inside the ship. At a word from Kastner the balance of the crew passed through the lock and began to amuse themselves by trying to keep their footing on the surface of Mars.
Damis and Turgan, having entered the transporters, slipped their feet in place as the Martians had directed. They grasped firmly the handles which projected from the inside of the cylinders. There was a momentary sensation of slight nausea and then a thought wave reached them.