"Those weapons on which you are planning, Nepthalim, were given to you by our Grand Mognac for the purpose of ridding your planet of your oppressors and of defending your planet against further Jovian attacks, not for the purpose of invading another planet with which we have no quarrel. If you will use them for the purpose for which they were given you, you may depart with them in peace. If you plan to go to Venus, the weapons will remain on Mars."
"We will go to the Earth and rid her of her oppressors," replied Damis, "but first we must go to Venus and rescue Lura."
"Venus lies beyond the sun," was the Martian answer, "while your planet and Mars are on the same side. It will take you five times as long to go to Venus as to go to the Earth. Meanwhile the Jovian fleet will have landed and your efforts will be in vain to dislodge them. Even now you must fly at your best speed to reach your planet before them."
"But we cannot abandon Lura. She is the only daughter of my comrade and she is my affianced bride. She means more to us than does the fate of our planet."
"Then go to Venus after her, Nepthalim, but go without Martian aid. Only to save you from your oppressors will we help you. Never has Mars attempted conquest of another celestial body, although not even Jupiter could stand against our might if we chose to attack it."
"You cannot understand her relationship to us, Martian."
"No, I cannot. We are sexless and sex exists on Mars only for the purpose for which it was intended, the perpetuation of our species. It may be that we have been mistaken. If the fate of one member of your species means more to you than the rescue of your whole race, it is perhaps well that you be eliminated by the Jovians. In any event, our decision is final. Make your choice of whether you depart with the weapons or as you came."
"Then I will go to Venus," cried Damis. "If necessary, I will fight the Jovians with bare hands, but I will rescue Lura or die in the attempt."
"And what of the Earthmen who trusted you, Nepthalim?" asked Turgan. "Dozens gave their lives gladly to capture the space ship in which we came here and thousands have gone cheerfully to annihilation to keep the Sons of God beleaguered in the Viceregal palace until we return with the weapons which will bring them victory. Think you that they would choose the destruction of enslavement of the whole race to the possible chance of rescuing one person from the grasp of Glavour's minions?"
"Turgan, you are mad!" cried Damis. "Have you forgotten that Lura is your only child?"
"Since the days of Hortan, Glavour has sought information as to the secret assembly room. Hundreds of men have gone to torture and death with their lips sealed when they could have bought life and freedom by speaking."
"Were it my own life, Turgan, I would not hesitate."
"Think you that never before has an Earthman been faced with the choice of betraying his countrymen or seeing his wife or daughter violated and sacrificed in the games? All have been true to the last and yet they could have done little harm had they spoken. You have the fate of the Earth in your hand, yet you hesitate. I am Lura's father and I know her better, it seems, than do you. If you abandon her countrymen, she will despise you for a coward. It is better that one or that many be lost than that all be lost."
Damis bowed his head in silence. Raised by the Jovians whose only ideal of life was their own selfish pleasure, the thought that the fate of thousands whom he did not know and in whom he felt little interest could be of more importance than the fate of the one whose safety meant more than life to him was a novel one. The lifelong training he had received from the Sons of God struggled, and struggled in vain, against the ideals he had inherited from his Earthly mother and his loved sire. With a face drawn with anguish, he raised his head.
"We will take your weapons, Martian, and with them go to Earth. If it be His will that Lura be safe, safe shall she be although the whole force of Jupiter threaten her. If not, His will be done. One promise I exact of you, Turgan. When we have reached Earth and I have taught your followers to use the Martian weapons, you will give me a crew and let me depart to Venus to find her."
"Gladly will I promise, and if I be spared, I will go with you, Damis," said Turgan. "Do not think that Lura is not dear to me; she is dearer than all else in the Universe save only the keeping bright the ideal of loyalty that has been the guiding light of the Terrestrials for untold ages."
"Your decision is well made, Nepthalim," said the Martian, "and word of it shall be given to the Grand Mognac that he may know that he made no mistake when he entrusted you with the weapons of Mars. Now for your course. When you rise, direct your ship toward Deiphos. The Jovian fleet is now at an ascension of forty-two degrees and at an angle of one hundred and sixty degrees from the sun. Deiphos will hide you from their instruments. Once you reach it, our observers will plot your course and send you a bearing which will take you as far from the Jovian fleet as possible. They are now passing Ceres and will soon be out of the asteroid belt. They are larger and more powerful than the ship you are flying and they will make better speed. However, if you use your maximum power, you will easily arrive on your planet before them. Have you fuel enough for your trip at full speed?"
Damis hastily inspected the fuel supply of the ship and made some rapid calculations.
"We have enough to carry us at maximum speed to Earth and to retard us to a safe landing, but very little to spare. Can you give us some?"
"There is no tantalum on Mars except a little scattered through tons of rock. It would take us days to extract enough to do you any good. It is well that you did not plan to fly to Venus for you could have made little speed and the Jovian flyer would have reached there long before you did. Now go, and may our best wishes aid you in your flight."
Damis turned and instinctively held out his hand. A trace of expression flickered over the face of the nearest Martian slug and he bent forward and clasped the proffered hand in one of the many hands with which he was provided. No further message came to Damis from the Martians and he entered the airlock with Turgan following him. As the lock clanged shut, he turned to his companion.
"Open the reserve air tanks and restore the atmosphere gradually to the pressure of Earth," he directed. "Unless you do that, we will be unable to function efficiently."
While Turgan opened the valve which allowed the reserve supply of compressed air to gradually enter the ship, Damis pulled down the starting lever of the ship. With a terrific lurch the flyer left the surface of Mars and shot up into the trackless realms of space. Abandoning his controls for an instant, Damis looked into one of the observers. The plain below them was empty of Martians, but in the distance he could dimly see two of the silvery domes which marked their cities. He made some short calculations and turned on a side motor for a moment. The ship swerved and headed for the Martian satellite to which he had been directed.
In an hour he was holding the ship less than a thousand miles from Deiphos while he received a message from the Grand Mognac as to the location of the Jovian fleet, their speed and course, and the course which he should fly to reach the Earth ahead of them. He noted down the directions and set the cross hairs of his forward observer on Alpha Centauri. His hand sought the controlling lever and the ship rapidly gathered momentum for the trip to Earth.
A Desperate Plan Flying the space ship with a crew of two men instead of the normal nine threw a heavy strain on Damis. Turgan proved to be almost tireless, but while he could act as an observer, Damis devoutly hoped that no wandering celestial body would approach within the danger zone while he was alone on duty. Nothing of the sort happened. The days passed with monotonous slowness, yet daily and, indeed, hourly, the planet Mars faded to a red star and the green point of light which marked their destination grew larger. Damis cast many a longing glance at Venus, but he remained steadfast to the faith which Turgan had engendered in him. During the long hours Turgan had opportunity to tell the Nepthalim of some of the sacrifices made by Terrestrials for the cause of liberty. They filled Damis with amazement and moved him to awe to think of the loyalty and bravery displayed by those whom he had been taught from childhood to regard as a race of slaves, created solely to minister to their overlords.
Damis pushed the ship to the greatest acceleration which he dared to use, and, as they approached the Earth, he cast many an anxious glance at the diminishing fuel supply. For thirteen days he drove at high speed until the Earth seemed almost at hand. Using almost the full power of his bow motors, he checked its speed. For a time he thought he had overestimated the power of his motors and that it would be necessary to avoid the atmosphere belt, run past the Earth and return. At the middle of the fifteenth day, with the Earth less than a thousand miles away, he threw in his last notch of power.
The deceleration pressed them so tightly to the nose of the ship that they could hardly breathe. Damis lay with his hand on a side motor to throw them out of danger. Gradually the forward motion of the ship ceased and at last Damis rose with an effort and shut off the bow motors.
"We are falling under the influence of terrestrial gravity," he announced. "In another three hours, we will land."
He was as good as his word. Three hours later he dropped the space ship to a landing at a spot half a dozen miles distant from the beleaguered capital of the Sons of God. As he landed, the sun was just peeping over the eastern horizon.
Their approach had been seen and the ship was surrounded by hundreds of Terrestrial swordsmen. As the airlock opened and Damis and Turgan appeared there was silence for a moment and then a thunderous shout of joy rose to the heavens. From the forefront of the crowd, a crimson-robed man ran toward the ship.
"Turgan, my lord," he cried as fell on his knees and strove to kiss the Kildare's hand. "You are spared to us who had given you up for lost. Our spies reported that the Sons of God had followed you to Mars and had slain you all. Havenner reported to Glavour that you had made such a resistance that it was impossible to follow his orders and bring you back alive."
"Havenner!" cried Damis. "Havenner is on Venus with Lura."
"The ship of the Sons of God returned last night," replied the Akildare, "with a loss of two men of its crew and with the Princess Lura a prisoner."
Tears of joy sprang into Damis' eyes and ran unrestrained down his face.
"And she is safe?" he cried.
"One of our spies saw her and reports that she is well although in poor spirits. She is confined in the palace and will not be harmed. A Jovian fleet of a hundred ships is expected hourly with Tubain himself in command. A message to Glavour has ordered that Lura be held for Tubain's arrival, when he will dispose of her."
"What is the situation here, Toness?" interrupted Turgan. "I rejoice with Damis that my daughter is safe, yet, unless we are victorious, her present safety will avail her little."
"Things have gone neither well nor ill since your departure, Kildare," replied Toness. "I have followed out the great conspiracy as it was planned many years ago. Although we have lost thousands of our bravest men, we have the Sons of God besieged in the Viceregal palace and we have tapped and cut the secret source of power which Timour, the Akildare, found years ago. They have no weapons save some hand tubes that are not yet exhausted and their axes. Their most powerful weapons of offense are crippled, yet we cannot storm the palace in the face of the defenses they have left. Have you brought us any hope from Mars?"
"We have brought weapons against which all the power and science of the Sons of God are as helpless as is our feeble strength against their might," replied Turgan. "Send me men to transport these weapons, and in two hours not a Jovian will remain on the planet."
A wild cheer of joy from the assembled Terrestrials answered the words of the Kildare. A score of men ran forward and entered the space ship on the heels of Turgan. They reappeared in a few minutes carrying with the greatest of care the two terrible weapons which were the gift of the Grand Mognac. Damis suddenly looked up from a reverie in which he had been plunged.
"I have just figured it out," he exclaimed. "Despite his report to Glavour, Havenner knew that Turgan and I lived. He started away from Mars toward Venus, a destination which he had already informed his crew that they would make for. He feared the Martian weapons and he strove to draw us away toward Venus so that he would be safe. Once the Martian instruments had ceased to watch him, he altered his course and made for Earth. With his greater supply of fuel and more powerful ship, he was able to make a higher speed and, despite the additional million or two of miles, he was able to land before us. The thing that puzzles me is why we were not seen by the Jovians as we approached."
"You came from a different direction than Havenner, oh Nepthalim," replied Toness. "All of their instruments were either watching Havenner or the Jovian fleet. But for an accident, your approach would not have been noted by us. I am confident that the Sons of God have no idea that you have returned, especially since Havenner reported that he had slain you. We will take them by surprise. Where shall we take the weapons?"
"Take the one with the blue rod to the top of the mountain which overlooks the palace and set it so that the rod points in the direction from which Tubain's fleet is approaching. That hill is less than two miles from the palace, so you had better take them both there. Point the red rod toward the palace."
At a word from Toness, the Terrestrials started off with the weapons for the point indicated by Damis. The Nepthalim and Turgan followed them, relating their adventure on the red planet as they walked along. The shutting off of the Jovian source of power had effectually crippled all of the power-driven chariots which certain of the higher officials among the Earthmen had been allowed to maintain.
On the top of the hill overlooking the palace grounds the two Martian weapons were placed on the ground, side by side. Damis carefully aligned the red rod on the Viceregal palace. When he had it set, with a word of warning, he closed the gravity anchor switch. The instrument settled a trifle on the solid rock on which it was bedded and then was motionless. At a word from Damis, as many of the Terrestrials as could find a hand-rest pushed against it. It was as though they were pressing against the mountain itself. Damis sighted along the rod and adjusted it until it pointed at the center of the building.
"So much for that one," he said. "It is the less powerful of the two, but it will be enough to destroy the Sons of God and the Nepthalim who are in the palace. The few who are scattered over the Earth, we can dispose of at our leisure. If the Jovian fleet approaches the Earth from directly above us, we will be able to destroy it easily. In any event, this weapon is to be used only when it is approximately normal to the surface of the Earth. We must have it almost under the point from which the Jovians are approaching. That may be on the opposite side of the Earth."
"I think not, Nepthalim," said Toness. "We know that Glavour and Tubain have been in constant communication since the Jovian fleet passed Mars and he expects them to land here. There would be no object in their taking a circuitous route, so they will probably drop directly down in the palace grounds."
"Let us hope so, Toness. In any event, we might as well anchor the weapon here as elsewhere."
He set the weapon with the blue rod on another patch of bare rock and tested the rod to make sure that it revolved freely and could be made to cover the entire heavens from horizon to horizon. He closed the gravity anchor switch and again the efforts of a dozen Terrestrials were futile to move it.
"Now we are ready for their attack," he said to Turgan. "You are as familiar with these weapons as I am, but I will instruct a dozen of your followers in using them. It is possible that we may not be able to operate the weapons ourselves."
"I can operate one weapon while you manipulate the other, Damis," replied the Kildare. "However, no harm will be done in instructing others."
"I may not be here," said Damis briefly.
Without replying to the questions of Turgan and Toness, he proceeded to instruct a dozen of the Earthmen in the use of the terrible Martian weapons. When he was certain that he had a half dozen men capable of attending to each of the weapons, he turned to Turgan.
"I may not be here when the weapons are used," he said. "When I thought that Lura had gone to Venus, I gave her up and sacrificed both her and my heart on the altar of our cause, for it is what she would have chosen. Now I have accomplished the sacrifice and returned with the Martian weapons to find that she is a captive in the Viceroy's palace. We can turn on the rays and reduce the building and all in it to a pinch of dust in a few seconds, but Lura would be immolated with the Sons of God. The weapons are here; our men know how to use them, and my usefulness is at an end. Now I stand here with no more responsibility for our success than the humblest swordsman. Since I am no longer needed, I will leave the fate of the Earth to you and follow out my private designs."
"Where are you going, Nepthalim?" cried Toness. The question was echoed by all within the sound of his voice. Only Turgan smiled as though he knew Damis' answer.
"Where could I go, Akildare, but to one place?" replied the Nepthalim. "I go to Glavour's palace. I have two errands there. One is to rescue Lura and the other is to mete out to Glavour the death which I swore that I would accomplish. The rays can be turned on and the palace demolished at any time, but I ask that you wait until I return with Lura or until you know that we are dead."
"But if the Jovian fleet arrives before that time, Nepthalim?" demanded Toness.
"Then give the word for the use of the weapons, Akildare, and Lura's soul and mine will join the thousands of others whose lives are but a part of the price the race of Earthmen have had to pay to rid their planet of the Sons of God."
"It grieves me, Damis, to see you go to certain death," said Turgan sadly to the blond giant, "yet I will say nothing to stop you. Were it not that my presence would hinder you in your attempt, I would accompany you."
"Your place, Kildare, is at the head of your men, whom you were born to rule. I can hope to succeed only by stealth, else a thousand men would come with me. Now call from the ranks one who is a barber that he may change the color of my hair and alter my face that I shall not be known."
At the Kildare's word, three men stepped forward from the ranks of swordsmen and announced themselves adepts in the art of disguise. Swift runners were sent to bring supplies and the three labored over Damis. When they had finished their ministrations, only a close observer would have known him under the bushy black beard which covered his face.
In the Seraglio With a parting word to Turgan and his followers, Damis made his way alone down the hill and into the thick tropical jungle which grew up almost to the gates of the Viceregal palace. He was well acquainted with a secret entrance into the building. It was a matter of minutes for him to locate the outer end and open it.
For half a mile he made his way underground until a huge stone door barred his way. He felt for the hidden catches and the slab of rock rose before him. As he turned toward the doorway he found himself looking into the muzzle of a black ray tube in the hands of a gigantic Jovian in the uniform of the Viceroy's guards.
"Whence came you, Nepthalim?" demanded the guard, a cold note of suspicion in his voice.
"From far Torna," replied Damis readily. "I am Durmino, Komar of the province of Capries. The slaves rose on us and all were slain except me. I have had to travel by night and hide by day to reach here. I knew not whether the slaves had conquered or not, but when I found them lying by thousands about Glavour's palace, I knew that the reign of the Sons of God was safe. What news from Tubain?"
The face of the Jovian guard cleared as Damis spoke. Durmino, a son of Glavour by one of his Terrestrial concubines, was Komar of Capries, a fact well known to Damis. There was nothing in the newcomer's story to excite suspicion.
"The fleet of the Ruler of the Universe is approaching," the guard replied. "In two hours it will be hovering above us. We would have needed no aid had not the dogs of Earthmen found our source of power and managed to destroy it with stolen ray tubes. We have been cooped up here like rats waiting for Tubain to arrive. When he comes our vengeance will be heavy."
"The heavier the better," growled Damis with an oath. "The dogs have been getting surly for a generation. I hope that Tubain will teach them a lesson that will not be forgotten for ages to come."
"He will, never fear," laughed the guard. "Already Glavour has made his plans. I am not a member of the council, yet I have heard enough to realize why Glavour is our ruler. My brain could not conceive of such a stupendous plan."
"I will go to my father now," said Damis. "What is the word for passing the inner gate? I wish to surprise my sire for he doubtless mourns me as dead."
"He thinks you are dead," replied the guard, "yet I never heard of Glavour mourning for any loss which did not affect his pleasures. He has plenty of bastards to take your place. The word is 'Tubain.'"
"I thank you, Son of God," said Damis, "and I will inform my sire of the great respect and high regard which you have for him. Fear not, your words shall be truthfully reported to him."
Leaving the Jovian guard hastily reviewing the conversation with the supposed Durmino, Damis made his way toward the palace. Since he knew that he would not reach another door until after several of the underground passages with which the foundations of the palace were honeycombed had joined, he had little doubt of his ability to make his way unsuspected into the citadel. He debated for a moment on the advisability of killing the Jovian guard and taking his weapons, but caution prevailed, and empty-handed, save for a dagger concealed under his robes, he strode forward.
His knowledge of the password enabled him to pass the various guards he met without difficulty. There were many of the Nepthalim who held subordinate positions in the outlying provinces and who were seldom at court, and the Jovian guards, who in their hearts regarded the Nepthalim as little better than the Terrestrials, paid small attention to him. He passed several guarded points before the path rose steeply and he passed through the final gate into the palace itself. A Nepthalim passed him hurriedly and Damis plucked at his robe.
"I am just from outpost," he said. "What news of Tubain?"
"The fleet has entered the atmosphere belt a thousand miles east of here," replied the Nepthalim. "They are dropping to an altitude of five miles and will then approach. They should arrive in an hour. It is well that they hurry."
"What rush is there?" asked Damis in surprise. "We may not be able to leave here, but, at the same time, all the forces the slaves can muster would never force an entrance."
"You have not heard then?" exclaimed the other in surprise. "No--certainly not, if you have been on outpost--for I just learned it myself. There is a rumor that Havenner lied when he said that he killed Turgan, the Kildare and Damis, the renegade--the curse of Tubain rest on him--on Mars. It is said that they not only escaped death but have returned to Earth armed with the weapons of the red planet. Havenner is with Glavour now and no one knows what the outcome will be. Since Tubain is at hand, doubtless nothing will be done until he arrives. That is the reason why Tubain altered his course and came down so far away instead of directly overhead. He hopes thus to elude the Martian weapons if the Earthmen really have them."
"Surely that is a lie!" cried Damis.
"We hope that it is, yet Havenner would have been slain without mercy had he admitted that he left Mars without slaying or capturing Turgan and Damis. Many believe that it is true."
"Is Glavour in the council room?" asked Damis. "I have a message."