The new normal
World War II ended in a huge bang. Most explosively, the detonation of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the surrender of the Japanese military aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, World War II was officially over.
Soldiers returned home to parades and then found themselves once again civilians. Pulp editors and writers expected them to return to reading the magazines they had so enjoyed prior to the war. But with a return to civilian life also came new responsibilities and problems. Many of the returning men got married and began raising children. Their focus wasn’t on fantastic things, but rather the mundane. Sales slipped for the pulps.
Also, the men often times had better paying jobs. They bought cars to upkeep. They listened to the radio. They played golf or horseshoes or played with their children. Less and less time was spent reading the pulps. And as the 1950s started, another technology gathered their attention. The television.
By 1954, more than half the households in America boasted a television set. TV became the new medium for telling stories, and serialized stories sold well. Western adventure stories were very popular. Television brought to life folk heroes like Davy Crockett and the Lone Ranger, Zorro and Paladin. Other shows featured Robin Hood, Rin-Tin-Tin, and Wild Bill Hickok.
Even science fiction shows were popular. The Twilight Zone. The Adventures of Superman. Tom Corbat, Space Cadet. No need to read or imagine. Have dinner in front of the television and enjoy the stories with the whole family. No need for anyone to share the magazine or read a few chapters until next month. Now once a week people could follow their favorites, and then talk about it around the water cooler at work the next day.
The heyday of the pulp magazine was ending. Serialized fiction stories were giving way to full novels in the form of paperback books which could be purchased for between 10 and 50 cents everywhere. Book racks sprang up in five and dime stores, corner pharmacies, and even grocery stores. Many of the authors who had started out in pulp were now focusing on the new market.
But pulp stories didn’t totally die out. In fact, they moved to another medium which also used cheap paper and ink, and once again focused on the impressionable young men and women in high school. Plus, these stories were in full color, or at least four colors…
Chapter VII: By Kamlot’s Grave
Though Kamlot is dead, Carson still collects the tarel, feeling it would not do to return without the precious material. He then straps Kamlot’s body to his back and begins attempting to make his way back to the city.
Here Burroughs delves into the honor of returning the dead for rites. Since Carson is unsure of the correct rites to give Kamlot, he chooses to carry the body and gear back to the city, even though this will make for a much more difficult journey. In many respects, Burroughs is showing that honor is more important than easy for the truly honorable man.
There is a brief interlude with another targo, but Carson is able to, through blind luck by his own admission, kill the beast with a single thrust. He decides to head down to the surface rather than continuing to blindly stumble through the connected branches.
Once Carson and his cargo reach the surface of Amtor, he lays down and sleeps. The next morning, he stands in awe of the huge trees. Burroughs dives into a discussion about the implausibility of the trees size (over 6,000 feet high and more than a 1,00 feet in diameter) and how the plants might be different from the Earth cousins to explain. This is one of several discussions of scientific thought Burroughs takes make during the story.
Carson digs a grave for Kamlot, having decided he cannot make it back up to the city with the body. However, when he goes to lower the body into the hole, he finds it warm. This makes no sense since it has been almost 18 hours since Kamlot was killed. It turns out the targo’s venom is a paralytic rather than deadly. J. R. R. Tolkien used a similar concept with Shelob at the end of The Two Towers.
Kamlot thanks Carson for carrying him and bringing the gear as well. With his weapons, Kamlot can hunt a basto. He also explains in detail how the pair will be able to find their way back to the city through a clever system of nails driven into the trunks of the trees with markings.
Finally Kamlot is able to find and slay a basto, but then Carson sees something and cries out, leaving the chapter ending on a cliffhanger.
Chapter VIII: On Board the Sofal
It turns out our two intrepid heroes have been found by winged men called klangan. Burroughs pauses to give us a brief discussion of how Amtor words are conjugated. It is interesting to note how often Burroughs pauses the narrative to perform info dumps, even if the timing of the digression makes little sense for the plot progression. He also spends nearly a full page describing the angan/klangan as they carry the captives to a ship in a harbor.
For the first time, Burroughs introduces Thorists to the reader, making sure to make them ugly and unlikable. This is a common method for pulp writers to differentiate the “good” guys from the “bad” guys. Not only are the Thorists ugly in countenance, but they also have ugly personalities. Carson uses his perception of their thought processes against them, even claiming to be a doctor to improve the treatment of himself and Kamlot.
Next is a long discussion about the pseudo-science behind the T-rays used in naval guns and the dangers they pose. Burroughs also gives a description of mass annihilation as the power source for the ships. The description has more in common with a matter-antimatter system like the one used for the ships in Star Trek than actual nuclear power plants though. Not bad for something written in 1932, especially since the first experiments in nuclear transformations were performed the same year.
This chapter ends on a cliffhanger of finding out Duare, the hope of Vepaja, maybe even the whole of Amtor, has been kidnapped by the Thorists.
Pirates of Venus
Edgar Rice Burroughs
SOLDIERS OF LIBERTY
Constant association breeds a certain camaraderie even between enemies. As the days passed, the hatred and contempt which the common sailors appeared to have harbored for us when we first came aboard the ship were replaced by an almost friendly familiarity, as though they had discovered that we were not half bad fellows after all; and, for my part, I found much to like in these simple though ignorant men. That they were the dupes of unscrupulous leaders is about the worst that may be said of them. Most of them were kindly and generous; but their ignorance made them gullible, and their emotions were easily aroused by specious arguments that would have made no impression upon intelligent minds.
Naturally, I became better acquainted with my fellow prisoners than with my guards, and our relations were soon established upon a friendly basis. They were greatly impressed by my blond hair and blue eyes which elicited inquiries as to my genesis. As I answered their questions truthfully, they became deeply interested in my story, and every evening after the day’s work was completed I was besieged for tales of the mysterious, far distant world from which I came. Unlike the highly intelligent Vepajans, they believed all that I told them, with the result that I was soon a hero in their eyes; I should have been a god had they had any conception of deities of any description.
In turn, I questioned them; and discovered, with no surprise, that they were not at all contented with their lots. The former free men among them had long since come to the realization that they had exchanged this freedom, and their status of wage earners, for slavery to the state, that could no longer be hidden by a nominal equality.
Among the prisoners were three to whom I was particularly attracted by certain individual characteristics in each. There was Gamfor, for instance, a huge, hulking fellow who had been a farmer in the old days under the jongs. He was unusually intelligent, and although he had taken part in the revolution, he was now bitter in his denunciation of the Thorists, though this he was careful to whisper to me in secrecy.
Another was Kiron, the soldier, a clean-limbed, handsome, athletic fellow who had served in the army of the jong, but mutinied with the others at the time of the revolution. He was being disciplined now for insubordination to an officer who had been a petty government clerk before his promotion.
The third had been a slave. His name was Zog. What he lacked in intelligence he made up in strength and good nature. He had killed an officer who had struck him and was being taken back to Thora for trial and execution. Zog was proud of the fact that he was a free man, though he admitted that the edge was taken off his enthusiasm by the fact that every one else was free and the realization that he had enjoyed more freedom as a slave than he did now as a freeman.
“Then,” he explained, “I had one master; now I have as many masters as there are government officials, spies, and soldiers, none of whom cares anything about me, while my old master was kind to me and looked after my welfare.”
“Would you like to be really free?” I asked him, for a plan had been slowly forming in my mind.
But to my surprise he said, “No, I should rather be a slave.”
“But you’d like to choose your own master, wouldn’t you?” I demanded.
“Certainly,” he replied, “if I could find some one who would be kind to me and protect me from the Thorists.”
“And if you could escape from them now, you would like to do so?”
“Of course! But what do you mean? I cannot escape from them.”
“Not without help,” I agreed, “but if others would join you, would you make the attempt?”
“Why not? They are taking me back to Thora to kill me. I could be no worse off, no matter what I did. But why do you ask all these questions?”
“If we could get enough to join us, there is no reason why we should not be free,” I told him. “When you are free, you may remain free or choose a master to your liking.” I watched closely for his reaction.
“You mean another revolution?” he asked. “It would fail. Others have tried, but they have always failed.”
“Not a revolution,” I assured him, “just a break for liberty.”
“But how could we do it?”
“It would not be difficult for a few men to take this ship,” I suggested. “The discipline is poor, the night watches consist of too few men; they are so sure of themselves that they would be taken completely by surprise.”
Zog’s eyes lighted. “If we were successful, many of the crew would join us,” he said. “Few of them are happy; nearly all of them hate their officers. I think the prisoners would join us almost to a man, but you must be careful of spies—they are everywhere. That is the greatest danger you would have to face. There can be no doubt but there is at least one spy among us prisoners.”
“How about Gamfor,” I asked; “is he all right?”
“You can depend upon Gamfor,” Zog assured me. “He does not say much, but in his eyes I can read his hatred of them.”
“Just the man!” exclaimed Zog. “He despises them, and he does not care who knows it; that is the reason he is a prisoner. This is not his first offense, and it is rumored that he will be executed for high treason.”
“But I thought that he only talked back to an officer and refused to obey him,” I said.
“That is high treason—if they wish to get rid of a man,” explained Zog. “You can depend on Kiron. Do you wish me to speak to him about the matter?”
“No,” I told him. “I will speak to him and to Gamfor; then if anything goes wrong before we are ready to strike, if a spy gets wind of our plot, you will not be implicated.”
“I do not care about that,” he exclaimed. “They can kill me for but one thing, and it makes no difference which thing it is they kill me for.”
“Nevertheless, I shall speak to them, and if they will join us, we can then decide together how to approach others.”
Zog and I had been working together scrubbing the deck at the time, and it was not until night that I had an opportunity to speak with Gamfor and Kiron. Both were enthusiastic about the plan, but neither thought that there was much likelihood that it would succeed. However, each assured me of his support; and then we found Zog, and the four of us discussed details throughout half the night. We had withdrawn to a far corner of the room in which we were confined and spoke in low whispers with our heads close together
The next few days were spent in approaching recruits—a very ticklish business, since they all assured me that it was almost a foregone conclusion that there was a spy among us. Each man had to be sounded out by devious means, and it had been decided that this work should be left to Gamfor and Kiron. I was eliminated because of my lack of knowledge concerning the hopes, ambitions, and the grievances of these people, or their psychology; Zog was eliminated because the work required a much higher standard of intelligence than he possessed.
Gamfor warned Kiron not to divulge our plan to any prisoner who too openly avowed his hatred of the Thorists. “This is a time-worn trick that all spies adopt to lull the suspicions of those they suspect of harboring treasonable thoughts, and to tempt them into avowing their apostasy. Select men whom you know to have a real grievance, and who are moody and silent,” he counselled.
I was a little concerned about our ability to navigate the ship in the event that we succeeded in capturing her, and I discussed this matter with both Gamfor and Kiron. What I learned from them was illuminating, if not particularly helpful.
The Amtorians have developed a compass similar to ours. According to Kiron, it points always toward the center of Amtor—that is, toward the center of the mythical circular area called Strabol, or Hot Country. This statement assured me that I was in the southern hemisphere of the planet, the needle of the compass, of course, pointing north toward the north magnetic pole. Having no sun, moon, nor stars, their navigation is all done by dead reckoning; but they have developed instruments of extreme delicacy that locate land at great distances, accurately indicating this distance and the direction; others that determine speed, mileage, and drift, as well as a depth gauge wherewith they may record soundings anywhere within a radius of a mile from the ship
All of their instruments for measuring distances utilize the radio-activity of the nuclei of various elements to accomplish their ends. The gamma ray, for which they have, of course, another name, being uninfluenced by the most powerful magnetic forces, is naturally the ideal medium for their purposes. It moves in a straight line and at uniform speed until it meets an obstruction, where, even though it may not be deflected, it is retarded, the instrument recording such retardation and the distance at which it occurs. The sounding device utilizes the same principle. The instrument records the distance from the ship at which the ray encounters the resistance of the ocean’s bottom; by constructing a right triangle with this distance representing the hypotenuse it is simple to compute both the depth of the ocean and the distance from the ship at which bottom was found, for they have a triangle of which one side and all three angles are known.
Owing to their extremely faulty maps, however, the value of these instruments has been greatly reduced, for no matter what course they lay, other than due north, if they move in a straight line they are always approaching the antarctic regions. They may know that land is ahead and its distance, but they are never sure what land it is, except where the journey is a short and familiar one. For this reason they cruise within sight of land wherever that is practical, with the result that journeys that might otherwise be short are greatly protracted. Another result is that the radius of Amtorian maritime exploration has been greatly circumscribed; so much so that I believe there are enormous areas in the south temperate zone that have never been discovered by the Vepajans or the Thorists, while the very existence of the northern hemisphere is even unguessed by them. On the maps that Danus showed me considerable areas contained nothing but the single word joram, ocean.
However, notwithstanding all this (and possibly because of it), I was confident that we could manage to navigate the ship quite as satisfactorily as her present officers, and in this Kiron agreed.
“At least we know the general direction of Thora,” he argued; “so all we have to do is sail in the other direction
As our plans matured, the feasibility of the undertaking appeared more and more certain. We had recruited twenty prisoners, five of whom were Vepajans, and this little band we organized into a secret order with passwords, which were changed daily, signs, and a grip, the last reminiscent of my fraternity days in college. We also adopted a name. We called ourselves Soldiers of Liberty. I was chosen vookor, or captain. Gamfor, Kiron, Zog, and Honan were my principal lieutenants, though I told them that Kamlot would be second in command if we were successful in taking the ship.
Our plan of action was worked out in detail; each man knew exactly what was expected of him. Certain men were to overpower the watch, others were to go to the officers’ quarters and secure their weapons and keys; then we would confront the crew and offer those who chose an opportunity to join us. The others—well, there I was confronted with a problem. Almost to a man the Soldiers of Liberty wanted to destroy all those who would not join us, and really there seemed no alternative; but I still hoped that I could work out a more humane disposition of them.
There was one man among the prisoners of whom we were all suspicious. He had an evil face, but that was not his sole claim upon our suspicions—he was too loud in his denunciation of Thorism. We watched him carefully, avoiding him whenever we could, and each member of the band was warned to be careful when talking to him. It was evident to Gamfor first that this fellow, whose name was Anoos, was suspicious. He persisted in seeking out various members of our group and engaging them in conversation which he always led around to the subject of Thorism and his hatred of it, and he constantly questioned each of us about the others, always insinuating that he feared certain ones were spies. But of course we had expected something of this sort, and we felt that we had guarded against it. The fellow might be as suspicious of us as he wished; so long as he had no evidence against us I did not see how he could harm us.
One day Kiron came to me evidently laboring under suppressed excitement. It was at the end of the day, and our food had just been issued to us for the evening meal—dried fish and a hard, dark-colored bread made of coarse meal.
“I have news, Carson,” he whispered
“Let us go off in a corner and eat,” I suggested, and we strolled away together, laughing and talking of the day’s events in our normal voices. As we seated ourselves upon the floor to eat our poor food, Zog joined us.
“Sit close to us, Zog,” directed Kiron; “I have something to say that no one but a Soldier of Liberty may hear.”
He did not say Soldier of Liberty, but “kung, kung, kung,” which are the Amtorian initials of the order’s title. Kung is the name of the Amtorian character that represents the k sound in our language, and when I first translated the initials I was compelled to smile at the similarity they bore to those of a well-known secret order in the United States of America.
“While I am talking,” Kiron admonished us, “you must laugh often, as though I were telling a humorous tale; then, perhaps, no one will suspect that I am not.
“Today I was working in the ship’s armory, cleaning pistols,” he commenced. “The soldier who guarded me is an old friend of mine; we served together in the army of the jong. He is as a brother to me. For either the other would die. We talked of old times under the banners of the jong and compared those days with these, especially we compared the officers of the old régime with those of the present. Like me and like every old soldier, he hates his officers, so we had a pleasant time together.
“Finally he said to me, quite suddenly, ‘What is this I hear of a conspiracy among the prisoners?’
“That almost took me off my feet; but I showed no emotion, for there are times when one must not trust even a brother. ‘What have you heard?’ I asked.
“‘I overheard one of the officers speaking to another,’ he told me. ‘He said that a man named Anoos had reported the matter to the captain and that the captain had told Anoos to get the names of all the prisoners whom he knew to be involved in the conspiracy and to learn their plans if he possibly could.’
“‘And what did Anoos say?’ I asked my friend.
“‘He said that if the captain would give him a bottle of wine he believed that he could get one of the conspirators drunk and worm the story from him. So the captain gave him a bottle of wine. That was today.’
“My friend looked at me very closely, and then he said, ‘Kiron, we are more than brothers. If I can help you, you have but to ask.’
“I knew this, and knowing how close to discovery we already were, I decided to confide in him and enlist his aid; so I told him. I hope you do not feel that I did wrong, Carson.”
“By no means,” I assured him. “We have been forced to tell others of our plans whom we knew and trusted less well than you know and trust your friend. What did he say when you had told him?”
“He said that he would help us, and that when we struck he would join us. He promised, too, that many others of the soldiers would do likewise; but the most important thing he did was to give me a key to the armory.”
“Good!” I exclaimed. “There is no reason now why we should not strike at once.”
“Tonight?” asked Zog eagerly.
“Tonight!” I replied. “Pass the word to Gamfor and Honan, and you four to the other Soldiers of Liberty.”
We all laughed heartily, as though some one had told a most amusing story, and then Kiron and Zog left me, to acquaint Gamfor and Honan with our plan.
But upon Venus as upon earth, the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft a-gley,” which is slang for haywire. Every night since we had sailed from the harbor of Vepaja the hatch had been left off our ill-smelling prison to afford us ventilation, a single member of the watch patrolling near to see that none of us came out; but tonight the hatch was closed.
“This,” growled Kiron, “is the result of Anoos’s work.”
“We shall have to strike by daylight,” I whispered, “but we cannot pass the word tonight. It is so dark down here that we should certainly be overheard by some one outside our own number if we attempted it.”
“Tomorrow then,” said Kiron
I was a long time getting to sleep that night, for my mind was troubled by fears for our entire plan. It was obvious now that the captain was suspicious, and that while he might not know anything of the details of what we purposed, he did know that something was in the air, and he was taking no chances.
During the night, as I lay awake trying to plan for the morrow, I heard someone prowling around the room, and now and again a whisper. I could only wonder who it was and try to guess what he was about. I recalled the bottle of wine that Anoos was supposed to have, and it occurred to me that he might be giving a party, but the voices were too subdued to bear out that theory. Finally I heard a muffled cry, a noise that sounded like a brief scuffle, and then silence again fell upon the chamber.
“Some one had a bad dream,” I thought and fell asleep.
Morning came at last, and the hatch was removed, letting a little light in to dissipate the gloom of our prison. A sailor lowered a basket containing the food for our meager breakfast. We gathered about it and each took his share, and moved away to eat it, when suddenly there was a cry from the far side of the room.
“Look what’s here!” the man shouted. “Anoos has been murdered!”
Yes, Anoos had been murdered, and there was a great hue and cry, much more of a hue and cry, it seemed to me, than the death of an ordinary prisoner should have aroused. Officers and soldiers swarmed in our quarters. They found Anoos stretched out on his back, a bottle of wine at his side. His throat was discolored where powerful fingers had crushed it. Anoos had been choked to death.
Soon they herded us on deck, where we were searched for weapons following an order from the captain of the ship, who had come forward to conduct an investigation. He was angry and excited and, I believe, somewhat frightened. One by one, he questioned us. When it was my turn to be questioned, I did not tell him what I had heard during the night; I told him that I had slept all night on the far side of the room from where Anoos’s body was discovered.
“Were you acquainted with the dead man?” he asked.
“No more so than with any of the other prisoners,” I replied.
“But you are very well acquainted with some of them,” he said rather pointedly, I thought. “Have you ever spoken with the man?”
“Yes, he has talked to me on several occasions.”
“About what?” demanded the captain.
“Principally about his grievances against the Thorists.”
“But he was a Thorist,” exclaimed the captain.
I knew that he was trying to pump me to discover if I harbored any suspicions concerning the actual status of Anoos, but he was not clever enough to succeed. “I certainly would never had suspected it from his conversation,” I replied. “If he were a Thorist, he must have been a traitor to his country, for he continually sought to enlist my interest in a plan to seize the ship and murder all her officers. I think he approached others, also.” I spoke in a tone loud enough to be heard by all, for I wanted the Soldiers of Liberty to take the cue from me. If enough of us told the same story it might convince the officers that Anoos’s tale of a conspiracy was hatched in his own brain and worked up by his own efforts in an attempt to reap commendation and reward from his superiors, a trick by no means foreign to the ethics of spies.
“Did he succeed in persuading any of the prisoners to join him?” asked the captain.
“I think not; they all laughed at him.”
“Have you any idea who murdered him?”
“Probably some patriot who resented his treason,” I lied glibly.
As he questioned the other men along similar lines, I was pleased to discover that nearly every one of the Soldiers of Liberty had been approached by the perfidious Anoos, whose traitorous overtures they had virtuously repulsed. Zog said that he had never talked with the man, which, to the best of my knowledge, was the truth.
When the captain finished his investigation, he was farther from the truth than when he commenced it, for I am certain that he went aft convinced that there had been no truth in the tales that Anoos had carried to him.
I had been considerably worried at the time we were being searched, for fear that the key to the armory would be discovered on Kiron, but it had not been, and later he told me that he had hidden it in his hair the night before as a precaution against just such an eventuality as had occurred.
The Amtorian day consists of 26 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds of earth time, which the Amtorians divide into twenty equal periods called te, which, for clarity, I shall translate into its nearest earthly equivalent, hour, although it contains 80.895 earth minutes. On shipboard, the hours are sounded by a trumpeter, there being a distinguishing bar of music for each hour of the day. The first hour, or one o’clock, corresponds to mean sunrise. It is then that the prisoners are awakened and given food; forty minutes later they start work, which continues until the tenth hour, with a short recess for food in the middle of the day. Occasionally we were allowed to quit work at the ninth and even the eighth hour, according to the caprices of our masters.
On this day the Soldiers of Liberty congregated during the midday rest period, and, my mind being definitely determined on immediate action, I passed the word around that we would strike during the afternoon at the moment the trumpeter sounded the seventh hour. As many of us as were working aft near the armory were to make a dash for it with Kiron, who would unlock it in the event that it were locked. The remainder were to attack the soldiers nearest them with anything that they could use as weapons, or with their bare hands if they had no weapons, and take the soldiers’ pistols and swords from them. Five of us were to account for the officers. Half of our number was to constantly shout our battle cry, “For liberty!” The other half was instructed to urge the remaining prisoners and the soldiers to join us.
It was a mad scheme and one in which only desperate men could have found hope.
The seventh hour was chosen because at that time the officers were nearly all congregated in the wardroom, where a light meal and wine were served them daily. We should have preferred launching our plan at night, but we feared a continuation of the practice of locking us below deck would prevent, and our experience with Anoos had taught us that we might expect the whole conspiracy to be divulged by another spy at any time; therefore we dared not wait.
I must confess to a feeling of increasing excitement as the hour approached. As, from time to time, I glanced at the other members of our little band, I thought that I could note signs of nervousness in some of them, while others worked on as placidly as though nothing unusual was about to occur. Zog was one of these. He was working near me. He never glanced toward the tower deck from which the trumpeter would presently sound the fateful notes, though it was with difficulty that I kept my eyes from it at all. No one would have thought that Zog was planning to attack the soldier lolling near him, nor have imagined that the night before he had murdered a man. He was humming a tune, as he polished the barrel of the big gun on which he was working.
Gamfor and, fortunately, Kiron were working aft, scrubbing the deck, and I saw that Kiron kept scrubbing closer and closer to the door of the armory. How I wished for Kamlot as the crucial moment approached! He could have done so much to insure the success of our coup, and yet he did not even know that such a stroke was contemplated, much less that it was so soon to be launched
As I glanced about, I met Zog’s gaze. Very solemnly he closed his left eye. At last he had given a sign that he was alert and ready. It was a little thing, but it put new heart into me. For some reason, during the past half hour I had felt very much alone.
The time was approaching the zero hour. I moved closer to my guard, so that I stood directly in front of him with my back toward him. I knew precisely what I was going to do, and I knew that it would be successful. Little did the man behind me dream that in a minute, or perhaps a few seconds, he would be lying senseless on the deck, or that the man he guarded would be carrying his sword, his dagger, and his pistol as the last notes of the seventh hour floated sweetly out across the calm waters of this Amtorian sea.
My back was now toward the deck houses. I could not see the trumpeter when he emerged from the tower to sound the hour, but I knew that it could not be long now before he stepped out onto the tower deck. Yet when the first note sounded I was as startled as though I had expected it never to sound. I presume it was the reaction after the long period of nervous tension.
My nervousness, however, was all mental; it did not affect my physical reactions to the needs of the moment. As the first note came softly down to my awaiting ears, I pivoted to a heel and swung my right for the chin of my unsuspecting guard. It was one of those blows that is often described as a haymaker, and it made hay. The fellow dropped in his tracks. As I stooped to recover his arms, pandemonium broke loose upon the deck. There were shrieks and groans and curses, and above all rose the war cry of the Soldiers of Liberty—my band had struck, and it had struck hard.
For the first time now, I heard the weird staccato hiss of Amtorian firearms. You have heard an X-ray machine in operation? It was like that, but louder and more sinister. I had wrenched the sword and pistol from the scabbard and holster of my fallen guard, not taking the time to remove his belt. Now I faced the scene for which I had so long waited. I saw the powerful Zog wrest the weapons from a soldier, and then lift the man’s body above his head and cast it overboard. Evidently Zog had no time for proselyting.
At the door to the armory a battle was being waged; men were trying to enter, and soldiers were shooting them down. I ran in that direction. A soldier leaped in front of me, and I heard the hiss of the death rays that must have passed close to my body, as he tried to stop me. He must have been either nervous or a very poor shot, for he missed me. I turned my own weapon upon him and pressed the lever. The man slumped to the deck with a hole in his chest, and I ran on.
The fight at the door of the armory was hand to hand with swords, daggers, and fists, for by now the members of the two factions were so intermingled that none dared use a firearm for fear of injuring a comrade. Into this mêlée I leaped. Tucking the pistol into the band of my G string, I ran my sword through a great brute who was about to knife Honan; then I grabbed another by the hair and dragged him from the door, shouting to Honan to finish him—it took too long to run a sword into a man and then pull it out again. What I wanted was to get into the armory to Kiron’s side and help him.
All the time I could hear my men shouting, “For liberty!” or urging the soldiers to join us—as far as I had been able to judge, all the prisoners had already done so. Now another soldier barred my way. His back was toward me, and I was about to seize him and hurl him back to Honan and the others who were fighting at his side, when I saw him slip his dagger into the heart of a soldier in front of him and, as he did so, cry, “For liberty!” Here was one convert at least. I did not know it then, but at that time there were already many such.
When I finally got into the armory, I found Kiron issuing arms as fast as he could pass them out. Many of the mutineers were crawling through the windows of the room to get weapons, and to each of these Kiron passed several swords and pistols, directing the men to distribute them on deck.
Seeing that all was right here, I gathered a handful of men and started up the companionway to the upper decks, from which the officers were firing down upon the mutineers and, I may say, upon their own men as well. In fact, it was this heartless and stupid procedure that swung many of the soldiers to our side. Almost the first man I saw as I leaped to the level of the second deck was Kamlot. He had a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, and he was firing rapidly at a group of officers who were evidently attempting to reach the main deck to take command of the loyal soldiers there.
You may be assured that it did my heart good to see my friend again, and as I ran to his side and opened fire on the officers, he flashed me a quick smile of recognition.
Three of the five officers opposing us had fallen, and now the remaining two turned and fled up the companionway to the top deck. Behind us were twenty or more mutineers eager to reach the highest deck, where all the surviving officers had now taken refuge, and I could see more mutineers crowding up the companionway from the main deck to join their fellows. Kamlot and I led the way to the next deck, but at the head of the companionway the surging mob of howling, cursing mutineers brushed past us to hurl themselves upon the officers.
The men were absolutely out of control, and as there were but few of my original little band of Soldiers of Liberty among them, the majority of them knew no leader, with the result that it was every man for himself. I wished to protect the officers, and it had been my intention to do so; but I was helpless to avert the bloody orgy that ensued with a resulting loss of life entirely disproportionate to the needs of the occasion.
The officers, fighting for their lives with their backs against a wall, took heavy toll of the mutineers, but they were eventually overwhelmed by superior numbers. Each of the common soldiers and sailors appeared to have a special grudge to settle either with some individual officer or with them all as a class and for the time all were transformed into maniacal furies, as time and again they charged the last fortress of authority, the oval tower on the upper deck.
Each officer that fell, either killed or wounded, was hurled over the rail to the deck below, where willing hands cast the body to the main deck from which, in turn, it was thrown into the sea. And then, at last, the mutineers gained access to the tower, from which they dragged the remaining officers, butchering them on the upper deck or hurling them to their shrieking fellows below.
The captain was the last to be dragged out. They had found him hiding in a cupboard in his cabin. At sight of him arose such a scream of hate and rage as I hope never to hear again. Kamlot and I were standing at one side, helpless witnesses of this holocaust of hate. We saw them literally tear the captain to pieces and cast him into the sea.
With the death of the captain the battle was over, the ship was ours. My plan had succeeded, but the thought suddenly assailed me that I had created a terrible power that it might be beyond me to control. I touched Kamlot on the arm. “Follow me,” I directed and started for the main deck.
“Who is at the bottom of this?” asked Kamlot as we forced our way among the excited mutineers.
“The mutiny was my plan, but not the massacre,” I replied, “Now we must attempt to restore order out of chaos.”
“If we can,” he remarked dubiously.
As I made my way toward the main deck, I collected as many of the original band of Soldiers of Liberty as we passed, and when I finally reached my destination, I gathered most of them about me. Among the mutineers I had discovered the trumpeter who had unknowingly sounded the signal for the outbreak, and him I caused to sound the call that should assemble all hands on the main deck. Whether or not the notes of the trumpet would be obeyed, I did not know, but so strong is the habit of discipline among trained men that immediately the call sounded the men began to pour onto the deck from all parts of the vessel.
I mounted the breech of one of the guns, and, surrounded by my faithful band, I announced that the Soldiers of Liberty had taken over the ship, that those who wished to accompany us must obey the vookor of the band; the others would be put ashore.
“Who is vookor?” demanded a soldier whom I recognized as one of those who had been most violent in the attack upon the officers.
“I am,” I replied.
“The vookor should be one of us,” he growled.
“Carson planned the mutiny and carried it to success,” shouted Kiron. “Carson is vookor.”
From the throats of all my original band and from a hundred new recruits rose a cheer of approval, but there were many who remained silent or spoke in grumbling undertones to those nearest them. Among these was Kodj, the soldier who had objected to my leadership, and I saw that already a faction was gathering about him.
“It is necessary,” I said, “that all men return at once to their duties, for the ship must be handled, no matter who commands. If there is any question about leadership, that can be settled later. In the meantime, I am in command; Kamlot, Gamfor, Kiron, Zog, and Honan are my lieutenants; with me, they will officer the ship. All weapons must be turned over immediately to Kiron at the armory, except those carried by men regularly detailed by him for guard duty.”
“No one is going to disarm me,” blustered Kodj. “I have as much right to carry weapons as anyone. We are all free men now. I take orders from no one.”
Zog, who had edged closer to him as he spoke, seized him by the throat with one of his huge hands and with the other tore the belt from about his hips. “You take orders from the new vookor or you go overboard,” he growled, as he released the man and handed his weapons to Kiron.
For a moment there was silence, and there was a tenseness in the situation that boded ill; then some one laughed and cried, “No one is going to disarm me,” mimicking Kodj. That brought a general laugh, and I knew that for the time being the danger was over. Kiron, sensing that the moment was ripe, ordered the men to come to the armory and turn in their weapons, and the remainder of the original band herded them aft in his wake.
It was an hour before even a semblance of order or routine had been reëstablished. Kamlot, Gamfor, and I were gathered in the chart room in the tower. Our consort was hull down below the horizon, and we were discussing the means that should be adopted to capture her without bloodshed and rescue Duare and the other Vepajan prisoners aboard her. The idea had been in my mind from the very inception of the plan to seize our own ship, and it had been the first subject that Kamlot had broached after we had succeeded in quieting the men and restoring order; but Gamfor was frankly dubious concerning the feasibility of the project.
“The men are not interested in the welfare of Vepajans,” he reminded us, “and they may resent the idea of endangering their lives and risking their new-found liberty in a venture that means nothing whatever to them.”
“How do you feel about it, personally?” I asked him.
“I am under your orders,” he replied; “I will do anything that you command, but I am only one—you have two hundred whose wishes you must consult.”
“I shall consult only my officers,” I replied; “to the others, I shall issue orders.”
“That is the only way,” said Kamlot in a tone of relief.
“Inform the other officers that we shall attack the Sovong at daybreak,” I instructed them.
“But we dare not fire on her,” protested Kamlot, “lest we endanger the life of Duare.”
“I intend boarding her,” I replied. “There will be no one but the watch on deck at that hour. On two other occasions the ships have been brought close together on a calm sea; so our approach will arouse no suspicion. The boarding party will consist of a hundred men who will remain concealed until the command to board is given when the ships are alongside one another. At that hour in the morning the sea is usually calm; if it is not calm tomorrow morning we shall have to postpone the attack until another morning.
“Issue strict orders that there is to be no slaughter; no one is to be killed who does not resist. We shall remove all of the Sovong’s small arms and the bulk of her provisions, as well as the Vepajan prisoners, to the Sofal.”
“And then what do you propose doing?” asked Gamfor.
“I am coming to that,” I replied, “but first I wish to ascertain the temper of the men aboard the Sofal. You and Kamlot will inform the other officers of my plans insofar as I have explained them; then assemble the original members of the Soldiers of Liberty and explain my intentions to them. When this has been done, instruct them to disseminate the information among the remainder of the ship’s company, reporting to you the names of all those who do not receive the plan with favor. These we shall leave aboard the Sovong with any others who may elect to transfer to her. At the eleventh hour muster the men on the main deck. At that time I will explain my plans in detail.”
After Kamlot and Gamfor had departed to carry out my orders, I returned to the chart room. The Sofal, moving ahead at increased speed, was slowly overhauling the Sovong, though not at a rate that might suggest pursuit. I was certain that the Sovong knew nothing of what had transpired upon her sister ship, for the Amtorians are unacquainted with wireless communication, and there had been no time for the officers of the Sofal to signal their fellows aboard the Sovong, so suddenly had the mutiny broken and so quickly had it been carried to a conclusion.
As the eleventh hour approached, I noticed little groups of men congregated in different parts of the ship, evidently discussing the information that the Soldiers of Liberty had spread among them. One group, larger than the others, was being violently harangued by a loud-mouthed orator whom I recognized as Kodj. It had been apparent from the first that the fellow was a trouble maker. Just how much influence he had, I did not know; but I felt that whatever it was, it would be used against me. I hoped to be rid of him after we had taken the Sovong.
The men congregated rapidly as the trumpeter sounded the hour, and I came down the companionway to address them. I stood just above them, on one of the lower steps, where I could overlook them and be seen by all. Most of them were quiet and appeared attentive. There was one small group muttering and whispering—Kodj was its center.
“At daybreak we shall board and take the Sovong,” I commenced. “You will receive your orders from your immediate officers, but I wish to emphasize one in particular—there is to be no unnecessary killing. After we have taken the ship we shall transfer to the Sofal such provisions, weapons, and prisoners as we wish to take with us. At this time, also, we shall transfer from the Sofal to the Sovong all of you who do not wish to remain on this ship under my command, as well as those whom I do not care to take with me,” and as I said this, I looked straight at Kodj and the malcontents surrounding him.
“I shall explain what I have in mind for the future, so that each of you may be able to determine between now and daybreak whether he cares to become a member of my company. Those who do will be required to obey orders; but they will share in the profits of the cruise, if there are profits. The purposes of the expedition are twofold: To prey on Thorist shipping and to explore the unknown portions of Amtor after we have returned the Vepajan prisoners to their own country.
“There will be excitement and adventure; there will be danger, too; and I want no cowards along, nor any trouble makers. There should be profits, for I am assured that richly laden Thorist ships constantly ply the known seas of Amtor; and I am informed that we can always find a ready market for such spoils of war as fall into our hands—and war it shall be, with the Soldiers of Liberty fighting the oppression and tyranny of Thorism.
“Return to your quarters now, and be prepared to give a good account of yourselves at daybreak.”