A Son of the Stars - Fenton Ash - ebook

A Son of the Stars ebook

Fenton Ash

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As may be imagined from the title, Mr. Fenton Ash’s book does not lack for marvelous adventure. „A Son of the Stars” novel is a complete rewrite of Fenton Ash’s earlier novel „A Trip to Mars. An exciting science fiction adventure, in which two heroes journey on a trip to Mars, where they have various adventures. In „A Son of the Stars” the heroes, who bear the names Gerald Wilton and Jack Lawford in „A Trip to Mars,” are called Bruce Mortimer and Maurice Somers. The names of other characters have also been changed, and there are major plot differences between the two works. All in all, they differ sufficiently to merit their classification as two separate novels. Highly recommended!

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Liczba stron: 378

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Contents

PROLOGUE

I. THE START

II. THE ARRIVAL ON MARS

III. A RIGHT ROYAL RECEPTION

IV. IN SHINING ARMOUR

V. CAPTURED!

VI. THE ESCAPE

VII. THE FIGHT ON THE AIRSHIP

VIII. AN EVENTFUL NIGHT

IX. MILONA'S RUSE

X. AERIAL MANOEUVRES

XI. A MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY

XII. THE RED AIRSHIP

XIII. LOST AGAIN

XIV. A MESSAGE FROM MAURICE

XV. SPORT AMONG THE CLOUDS

XVI. A FIGHT WITH GIANT EAGLES

XVII. LEFT TO DIE

XVIII. THE RED FIRE BALLS

XIX. WHAT MENTLAH HAD TO TELL

XX. MOLKRIS

XXI. A "PLAN OF CAMPAIGN."

XXII. THE CITY OF CORUDIA

XXIII. SHOOTING THE FIERY CHUTE

XXIV—ZANDALLA'S ARTIFICE

XXV. A NEW ADVENTURE

XXVI. THE TOWER BY THE FALL

XXVII. LYING IN WAIT

XXVIII. ZANDALLA AND MAURICE

XXIX. THE FIGURE AT THE WINDOW

XXX. THE FIGHT OH THE ROOF

XXXI. THE FLIGHT

XXXII. A BATTLE ON THE WATER

XXXIII. ACROSS THE LAKE

XXXIV. MILONA'S RETURN

XXXV. CONCLUSION

PROLOGUE

TWO lads, named Bruce Mortimer and Maurice Somers, both orphans, found themselves living together on a sheep station in Australia, whither they had been sent by their respective guardians to learn farming. The station was situated in a remote and desolate mountainous district, the work was hard, they were harshly treated, and altogether their life was unhappy and almost intolerably lonely. As was natural in such circumstances, they became great friends, and spent whatever spare time they could get in each other’s company, often going off together upon hunting trips or other excursions.

One day, when out on one of these trips, they met with an adventure which changed the whole current of their lives, and brought in its train a series of adventures more wonderful than they had ever imagined in their wildest dreams.

In one of the rushing mountain torrents which abound in the region, they saw some one struggling desperately, and on the point of being carried away and dashed over a waterfall. After almost heroic exertions, and at the risk of their own lives, they saved the stranger, and brought him to land in an unconscious state. He proved to be a young fellow not much older than themselves, dressed in very curious attire, the like of which they had never seen before. When he recovered consciousness they found that they could not understand a word he said, but by signs–he–invited them to follow him. He led them to a secluded valley amongst the mountains, where, to their utter amazement, they found a great number of people busily engaged in work of some kind upon an immense structure, which towered several hundreds of feet into the air, like some colossal ship. All these people were strangely dressed, and were apparently all of one race–one entirely unknown to the two astonished lads.

The young fellow whom they had rescued conducted them on board this structure, and presented them to one who was evidently the leader. He was a man of fine presence and noble mien, and received them with dignified condescension. They were subsequently treated with great hospitality, and were entertained with strange but luscious fruits, served in apartments gorgeously furnished and most richly decorated.

This was the beginning of a friendship between the two lads and the one whose life they had saved; and for several months they visited the valley from time to time, being each time gladly welcomed by their new friends, whom they always found still busy at work upon their “ship.”

Gradually they learned to understand one another, and bit by bit the two chums thus got to know who these people were.

Incredible and astounding as it appeared, it was, they found, nevertheless the fact that the strangers were inhabitants of the planet Mars, who had travelled in the great airship they had been engaged in repairing. In landing on our earth they had made a slight miscalculation, which had very nearly resulted in a terrible disaster. As it was, damages had been sustained which rendered their aerostat useless for the time being, and which it had needed the whole of their time and resources, to remedy. Their leader was King Amando, a great and mighty ruler in Mars; and the one whom the two chums had rescued was his son, Prince Milona, a name which signified in their language “Son of the Stars.”

Milona explained that when their repairs were finished they wished to travel round the earth, and learn as much as they could about it and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, having plenty to do, and being well supplied with stores, there was no need for them to leave the valley in which they had descended.

In regard to this tour he invited the two chums to go with them as guides and interpreters, accompanying the offer with a promise of such liberal terms that they gladly resolved to accept them, and to throw up their present uncongenial occupation.

At last, the work was finished, and the workers were taking a well-earned rest, when a wireless message from Mars reached King Amando, which caused him to alter all his plans, and spread dismay and consternation among his followers. It was to the effect that a revolution had broken out in his kingdom, and the rebels were supporting a rival claimant to the throne. At once the king gave up his projected tour of the world, and ordered preparations to be made for an immediate return to Mars.

This sudden change of plan was a great disappointment, not only to the two chums, who had rashly thrown up their employment, but also to Prince Milona. The three had become such friends that the prospect of a separation came as a most unpleasant shock, and Milona cast about for some way of avoiding it. He asked the two if they thought they would be plucky enough to go with him on a trip to Mars, supposing that he could obtain the king’s consent, pointing out that after the trouble was over they were sure to return to Earth for their interrupted tour.

Both eagerly declared they would be only too delighted to seize the chance of making such a trip if offered to them; but when Milona broached his idea to his father the latter peremptorily refused his consent. Nothing dismayed by this failure, Milona, determined not to disappoint the eager hopes he had raised, thought out a daring plan. He offered to conceal them on board as stowaways, promising to take all blame upon himself, and to bear the brunt of the king’s disapproval if he should be angry when he discovered what had been done.

This plan was carried out. Bruce and Maurice were smuggled on board disguised as members of the prince’s suite. With them went, an old sailor, Mike Jones, a worker on the farm, who had become attached to them, and begged so hard not to be left behind that the prince was induced to allow him to join them.

Scarcely had they arrived on board, and been stowed away in a place of temporary concealment, when the “Ramaylia”–so the huge airship was named–spread out its immense wings, and rose slowly and majestically into the air.

I. THE START

IT would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful sight, a more magnificent spectacle, than that presented, at early dawn, in a secluded valley of the Australian wilderness at the time this story opens, when the colossal “Chariot of the Skies” which had remained so long inactive started upon her return to the planet from which she had come.

It was a sight which would have aroused the enthusiasm of the whole world had its inhabitants been there to look upon it. One can imagine what scenes there would have been had the start taken place from, let us say, London, or some such great centre of population!

What crowds would have gathered to give the travellers a “send off,” and wish them “good luck” on their wondrous voyage!

Royalty would have been there, with a brilliant throng of princes and princesses, peers and peeresses, statesmen, scientists, and notabilities from all parts of our globe, gathered to do honour to the intrepid voyagers who had accomplished the, till then, incredible feat of travelling from one planet in the starry heavens to another!

The start would have been made amidst the booming of cannon, the music of military bands, and the hoarse roar of plaudits and cheers from tens of thousands of admiring and wondering spectators!

Some such scene, one may feel assured, would have actually taken place had the Martian king and his daring followers been able to carry out their original intention of making a tour of the world, and showing themselves and their marvellous, mighty aerostat, to the wondering gaze of its peoples.

Fate had, however, willed otherwise, and the departure took place with no crowds to witness it; without so much as one admiring spectator gazing up from the ground below. The birds of the air were almost the only living creatures who looked upon it, and they fled in wild affright from what to them must have appeared to be some immense bird of prey.

Sindbad’s famous roc itself would have appeared small and insignificant by the side of this huge creation, as it mounted upwards in a series of magnificent, graceful curves. Immense wings were beating the still air; great whirling spirals and revolving fans were sending forth deep, humming sounds, which can only be likened to the sonorous, diapason notes of some enormous organ.

Upwards, still upwards, the stupendous structure rose, standing out now against the blue sky above, looming larger than the biggest ship afloat upon the seas of the earth, working always in a series of curves and winding flights; the large, flat, spreading tail, and the outstretched figurehead adding to its resemblance to a giant bird.

From time to time, as the air became more rarefied, extensive changes were made in the visible equipment, and the wings worked ever faster and faster. One after the other the openings were closed and made secure; a vast, dome-like roof, semi-transparent, rolled over, covering in the upper deck completely. The tail, the figurehead, and all other projections were drawn inside, till the whole structure became egg-shaped, with nothing outside save the wings, and these were connected with the interior only by the metal shafts which worked them.

Thus the voyagers were completely boxed up, as it were, inside the vast machine. There was not even so much as a look-out window–so far as could be seen–and the noise made by the beating of the wings had become muffled.

At the same time other sounds, which had been somewhat subdued, began to grow in power and volume. The rumbling throb of Titanic engines, the deep, gasping, booming plunge of gigantic air-pumps, grew more insistent, and, mingling together, produced at last a confused, almost deafening roar.

Meanwhile, the people on board were evidently in a state of tense, strained excitement. Those engaged in the various operations, or in carrying orders and messages, went about with a weighty sense of responsibility. Others, who had no duties to perform, looked on in silence, too well conscious of the critical and difficult nature of the operations going forward to talk, even if the thunderous roar of the pulsating machinery had not rendered conversation difficult.

At a half-open door of one of the state-rooms, two young Britishers and an older companion–the sole representatives of our Earth among the crowd of voyagers–peered cautiously out with eager, interested faces. King Amando, the mighty Martian ruler, knew nothing of their presence on board, and little dreamed that he carried stowaways. His son–Prince Milona, “Son of the Stars,” to give him his proper designation–and half a dozen of his most trusted friends, were alone in the secret; and, truth to tell, now that the thing had been done, they did not feel any too comfortable when they came to consider what the eventual outcome was likely to be. King Amando was a ruler beloved and respected by his followers for his unvarying kindliness and sense of justice towards all around him; but he was also known to be a potentate with whom it was dangerous for any one–even the prince himself–to take liberties. Consequently, the half-dozen who had joined in the little conspiracy, by means of which Bruce Mortimer and Maurice Somers and their companion had been smuggled on board in the dark at the last moment, had good reason for the doubts which now assailed them.

Milona himself, however, if he felt any misgivings, cast them aside for the time being, and did his best to put his guests–as he considered them to be–at their ease. He stood outside the half-closed door and talked to them, explaining from time to time, as well as the noises around them would allow, everything that was going on. During their previous intercourse the two had already learned many things concerning the design and construction of the great aerostat; but this was their first experience of an actual flight through the air.

According to what had previously been explained to them, it seemed that some learned scientists of Mars had formed a sort of exclusive circle of their own; and it was the discoveries made by them which had rendered the navigation of space possible. King Amando, who had distinguished himself as an inventor as well as in other ways, was one of this knot of learned men, and as such shared their secrets. Upon the surface of Mars itself, where all matter, animate or inanimate, weighs so much less than upon our earth, the invention of flying machines had been a comparatively easy matter. Such contrivances had been in use for hundreds of years. But they could only be used for going about within a few miles of the surface of the planet.

The building of aerostats capable of travelling outside those limits, carrying with them their own supplies of air, had only been rendered possible–and that within a comparatively recent period–by the discovery, by the scientists referred to, of a means of controlling the attractive and repulsive forces of the sun. Exactly how it was effected was a secret which they jealously guarded.

Another important factor in solving the problem of navigating space had consisted in the invention of a metal of extraordinary strength, yet marvellously light, and semi-transparent. It was of this metal that the outer shell of the “Ramaylia” was composed, giving light within from the sun’s rays even when sealed up air- tight and cold-proof.

It was understood that when near the surface of a planet the wings and spirals were necessary to sustain the aerostat in the air; but that when the upper layers of atmospheric air were reached, the attraction of the sun was brought into play to finally draw the structure out of the sphere of the planet’s attraction. From that point the wings, fans, and spirals were no longer required, the sun’s attractive power being all-sufficient. After that, again–when, that is to say, well beyond the planet’s influence–the force of repulsion had to be utilised to prevent the daring adventurers from being drawn into the sun itself.

Thus it came about that, after a certain time, the machinery suddenly ceased, the wings became motionless, and the great machine seemed to be floating stationary in space.

Then King Amando came forth from a sort of deckhouse, and strolled across to where he saw his son standing. A warning signal, however, had apprised the stowaways of his approach, and they had already vanished, diving like rabbits beneath some heavy draperies which hung across one end of the state-room.

Amando seemed well pleased. His handsome, chiselled features wore a look as of the satisfaction which follows relief from the strain of an anxious time. In his whole bearing–always noble and dignified–there was just the suggestion now of pride–the pride of the savant who has forced science to become his handmaiden, and to carry out his will like the slave of Aladdin’s lamp.

“‘Tis well, Milona!” said he. “My theory has proved correct. There is an ethereal current running back upon this side of the sun, as I thought there must be, and we have struck it. Now we are being carried along in the direction of our planet almost as quickly as it is advancing to meet us. What a speed to travel at compared with anything we can attain in the air!”

A great stillness had followed upon the previous confused roar, and the silence seemed, in a manner, strange and almost startling, so suddenly had it come about. Then there had arisen a buzz of conversation and general talk, followed by a number of mixed sounds as the voyagers, relieved from the strain of the preceding hours, went about their ordinary duties.

“I shall take a look round to see that everything is satisfactory,” continued Amando, “and then lie down for a rest.”

A little while afterwards Milona called to the stowaways to come out of their hiding-places.

“My father has gone to his private apartments to get some sleep,” he told them. “He has been up early and late worrying over the arrangements for our voyage, and is tired. He is not likely to turn out for some hours, so you can come with me and I will show you round.”

Like a trio of schoolboys set free from work, the friends tripped off in high glee. Intense curiosity had now mastered all other feelings on the part of the two lads, and they delighted in being at liberty to go about and see what was to be seen.

They were both dressed in the picturesque Martian dress worn by the members of Milona’s suite, a half-civil, half-military garb, not unlike the costume in which William Tell is generally portrayed. Mike–or Micky, as they usually called him, their humble and faithful follower–was decked out in a somewhat similar garb, but of plainer material, and partaking more of the livery of a superior servant.

In their rich costumes Bruce and Maurice made a gallant show, for they could both boast of tall, well-built, sturdy figures. Bruce’s dark hair and face made him resemble more nearly the Martians whose style of dress he had adopted; Maurice’s fair hair and fresh complexion marking him out at once as a stranger amongst them. As to Mike, Maurice declared that he “looked about as much at home as a goose which had rigged itself out in the feathers of a turkey might be expected to do.” And poor Mike only gave a feeble grin of assent.

“I ain’t meself, Misther Maurice,” he murmured. “Sure I’m entoirely at say.”

“Ye look like it, Micky–seasick,” observed Bruce.

Mike, according to his own account, was only half an Irishman, the other half being–so he declared–Welsh. His full name–which was no less than Mike Evan Patrick Jones–bore out this statement; and it seemed that he had a difficulty in making up his mind which country he liked best. Usually he decided for Ireland, at which times his talk would be enriched with smatterings of the Irish fashion of speech. Then he would feel a gust of Welsh patriotism sweep over him, whereupon “Begorrah” or “Bejabers” would be replaced by the milder “Well, well,” or “Indeet to cootness, yes!”

The little party was increased by two of Milona’s friends named Tralona and Myontis, two young nobles who had been his intimate companions from boyhood.

Like the young prince, who inherited his father’s good looks, they were handsome specimens of Martian youths; and, like him, they were endowed with a liberal fund of vivacity and high spirits.

The first place to which Milona conducted his guests was the conning tower, whence a view could be had of their surroundings.

“You will like to take a last look at your globe,” he observed, “before it gets too small to be distinguishable from the other planets and stars.”

“Are we already so far away, then?” asked Maurice in surprise.

“You shall see. Look for yourself,” answered Milona, as he threw open a shutter, thus affording a view through double glass screens.

The two from Earth gave a gasp of astonishment. What strange sight was this which met their gaze?

Gone was the blue sky–that beautiful, azure vault to which they had been accustomed from infancy. In its place was a great, black void, in which the various stars hung like little suspended lamps, while the sun itself seemed to throw out no rays. But the most wonderful sight of all was the Earth, which they had so lately left. No sign was there now of the landscapes they had expected to see. There was only an immense ball, perhaps a hundred times the apparent size of the sun, and it seemed to be retreating rapidly, glaring back at them the while with a strangely weird light, partly blue, partly red.

After the first burst of surprise, they looked more closely, and perceived that the red parts formed continents and islands, and the blue marked the oceans and seas, much, as to form, as they would appear upon a gigantic map.

“Why–it looks like a map!” exclaimed Maurice. “I can make out Africa, and–and–yes, England, too! Look, Bruce!”

“Can ye pint out Oireland–and–Wales to me, Misther Maurice?” asked Mike, evidently interested. “I’d like to take a last look at me two native countries before it’s too late, jist t’ see how they be goin’ on.”

“Too late, Micky, too late,” Maurice declared. “I can only distinguish England and Scotland.”

Mike sighed. “‘Tis always the way,” he grumbled. “Go where ye will, ye foind the Oirish an’ the Welsh blotted out by the pushin’ English an’ Scotch!”

“It’s a wonderful sight to look upon! Wonderful to gaze back upon your own planet and see it a mere gigantic red and blue ball!” said Bruce. Then a thought struck him, and he added: “What if we should never go back to it again, Maurice?”‘

Maurice gave a grunt. “Now, that’s what I call a real, right down cheerful remark to make.” Then, turning to Milona, he asked: “Why does it seem to be rushing away from us like that?”

“It isn’t,” was the reply. “It is we who are rushing away from it. We are being whirled along in an ethereal current, which is travelling at the rate of some thousands of your miles an hour. But so perfectly free are we from any kind of friction that you think you are stationary, and that it is the other thing which is moving.”

When they had looked long enough at all that was to be seen from the conning tower–including their goal, the distant Mars, which as yet appeared only as a small point of light–Milona led them to the lower decks, and showed them the machinery for keeping the air supply sweet and pure. Then he explained the use of the semi- transparent metal roof.

“Outside,” he declared, “the sun is shining, but it seems to have no power. The cold upon the other side of this metal screen is so intense that I cannot put it into figures. Yet, inside, the same rays, though partially screened off, feel warm and comfortable. The reason is that the shape of the roof has been found to act as does the atmosphere on your planet or ours. Or, to put it another way, it acts like a burning glass, collecting the rays and focussing them so as to bring out their heat.”

Many other curious things were shown them, which it would be tedious to describe here at length. One was an arrangement of screens for shutting out the light and producing artificial “night”–for out in space it is everlasting “day.” Another was an ingenious method of setting up an artificial sense of “weight.” For in space, again, there is no feeling of weight; and without something of the kind to replace it they could not have existed in comfort for a single hour.

This brought them to the subject of the difference in the weight of bodies on the Earth and on Mars, and led on to the subject of flying.

“The same person weighs only about half, on our planet, compared with his weight on yours,” Milona remarked, repeating, in effect, what he had more than once previously explained. “At home I can fly about by the aid of artificial wings. But on your earth I found such a thing impossible. Before we reach the end of our journey, perhaps, I will give you lessons in the art, for you must know that our apparent weights will be gradually altered and made lighter, as will also the density of the air we breathe, so that by the time we land on the surface of our planet we shall not notice the change.”

“I began to fear that there was something of the sort going on– but the other way about,” remarked Maurice, looking very wise. “All the time you’ve been lecturing to us, like a solemn Professor Dryasdust, your whole air and manner has been getting heavier and heavier. That’s enough lecture for to-day. Show us something a little more lively!”

“Bring out the wings, and let us see if our weights have already changed enough for you to give us a lesson now,” urged Bruce.

“Why not?” Maurice exclaimed. “Why not let me have a try?”

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