The Swordsman of Mars - Otis Adelbert Kline - ebook

The Swordsman of Mars ebook

Otis Adelbert Kline

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The Age of Miracles produces an amazing suicide and a triumphant return from death. A million dollar prize is offered – and won – for the most perfect automation. „The Revenge of the Robot and Other Tales” is a collection of thrilling sci-fi stories from mechanistic progress, written by Otis Adelbert Kline, who was an adventure and science-fiction novelist of the pulp era. Kline is perhaps best known for his novelistic feud with Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote „Planet of Peril” (1929) and two other novels set on the planet Venus and written in the storytelling form of the John Carter of Mars novels, prompting Burroughs to write his own stories set on Venus. In return, Kline wrote two novels set on Mars, as well as several jungle adventurers quite reminiscent of Burroughs’s Tarzan.

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Liczba stron: 240

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Contents

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

PROLOGUE

HARRY THORNE opened his eyes and gazed about him with a startled expression. This was not the tawdry hotel bedroom in which he had gone to sleep; it was a small room with bare, concrete walls, a door of hardwood planking studded with bolts, and a barred window. The only articles of furniture were the cot on which he was lying, a chair, and a small table.

So the sleeping pills didn’t finish me off, he thought. Now I’m in jail for attempted suicide!

Thorne sat up, then rose unsteadily to his feet and staggered to the window. Supporting himself by gripping the thick iron bars, he peered out. It was broad daylight and the sun was high in the heavens. Below him stretched a deep valley, through which a narrow stream meandered. And as far as he could see in all directions there were mountains, though the highest peaks were all below the level of his own eyes.

He turned from the window at the sound of a key grating in a lock. Then the heavy door swung inward, and a large man entered the cell, bearing a tray of food and a steaming pot of coffee. Behind the man was a still larger figure, whose very presence radiated authority. His forehead was high and bulged outward over shaggy eyebrows that met above his aquiline nose. He wore a pointed, closely cropped Vandyke, black with a slight sprinkling of gray, and was dressed in faultlessly tailored evening clothes.

Thorne got to his feet as his singular visitor closed the door behind him. Then, in a booming bass, the man said, “At last, Mr. Thorne, I have caught up with you. I am Dr. Morgan.” He smiled. “And, I might add, not a moment too soon. You gave us quite a time–Boyd and I managed to get you out of that hotel room and down to the street, passing you off as drunk. Don’t you remember a knocking at the door? You weren’t quite out when we came in.”

Thorne thought for a moment, then nodded. It seemed that there had been a pounding somewhere. “How did you get in? I thought I locked the door.”

“You did, but I had skeleton keys with me, just in case. We took you to my apartment, treated you, and brought you out here.” Morgan nodded to Boyd, who left the room, then waved his hand invitingly toward the tray. “I ordered breakfast served in your room. I especially urge you to try the coffee. It will counteract the effect of the sedatives I was compelled to use in order to save your life and bring you here.”

“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to save something I don’t want,” Thorne said. “May I ask why you are interfering in my affairs?”

“I need you,” Morgan replied simply. “And I can offer you adventure such as only one other man of Earth has known–possibly glory, possibly death. But if death, not the mean sort you were seeking.”

Harry Thorne frowned. “You referred to a man of Earth as if there were men not of Earth. Are you suggesting a trip to Mars?”

Dr. Morgan laughed. “Splendid, Mr. Thorne. But suppose you tackle this breakfast. It will put you in a better frame of mind for what I am going to tell you. I shall not lock the door as I leave. When you have finished, join me in the drawing room–at the end of the corridor to your right.” He paused in the doorway. “You mentioned a trip to Mars, Mr. Thorne. Forgive me if I keep you in suspense for a time, but - although it is not exactly what you think those words mean - that is what I am going to propose.”

CHAPTER I

“YOU have heard of telepathy, of course–in fact, Mr. Thorne, you experimented with it at one time.”

“How did you know that, doctor?”

“You wrote a letter about your experiments to the editor of a popular magazine. It was published under your own name two months ago.”

Thorne rubbed his brow. “That’s right, I did–been so busy I forgot all about it. But my results were negative.”

Dr. Morgan nodded. “So were mine, for nearly twenty years. It was a hobby when I was in practice, but since my retirement, I’ve devoted my full time to it. Let me brief you on the basics.

“Telepathy, the communication of thoughts or ideas from one mind to another without the use of any physical medium whatever, is not influenced or hampered by either time or space. That is fundamental, but I had to amend it. I failed to achieve anything until I succeeded in building a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves. And even then I would have failed had this machine not caught the waves projected by another machine which another man had built to amplify and project them.”

“You mean you can read minds by radio, as it were?” Thorne asked.

“To a very limited extent. If you had a projector in this room, and I had my receiver here, I could pick up any thoughts you sent me, but only those you consciously projected. I could not read your mind in the sense of picking up anything you did not want me to know.”

Thorne took a cigarette from the box on the table to his right and lit it. “Interesting,” he admitted, “but what has this to do with Mars?”

“I made only one amendment to that basic theory, Mr. Thorne. The rest of it holds true: the communication of thoughts or-ideas from one mind to another is not influenced or hampered by time or space. The man who built the thought- projector is on Mars.”

“Men on Mars - you mean Martians, or human beings like us? Excuse me, doctor, but that is spreading it a bit thick. I’m well enough up on present-day studies of the planets...”

“... to know that the existence of a human civilization on Mars today is hardly credible,” Morgan broke in. “You are quite right. None such exists.”

“Then how...?”

“Space or time. I was incredulous, too, when I got in touch with someone who identified himself as a human being, one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. And I might add that Lal Vak found the idea of a human civilization on Earth a bit thick, too. But the explanation, fantastic as it may seem, is quite simple: Lal Vak is speaking to me from the Mars of some millions of years ago, when a human civilization did exist there.”

Morgan raised his hand. “Don’t interrupt now - hear me out. From that simple exchange of visual and auditory impressions which marked our first communications, we progressed until each one had learned the language of the other to a degree that enabled us to exchange abstract as well as concrete ideas.

“It was Lal Vak who suggested that if we could find a man on Earth and one on Mars whose bodies were similar enough to be doubles, their brain patterns might also be similar enough so that consciousness could be transferred between them. Thus, Earth of the 20th Century could be viewed through Martian eyes, while the (to us) ancient Mars culture - we cannot yet place it in time relative to Earth - could be seen at first hand by a man from Earth. First Lal Vak projected to me many thought images of Martians willing to make this exchange - so clearly that I was able to draw detailed pictures of them. But that was not enough. I could spend the rest of my life without finding any counterparts of these Martians here. The second thing Lal Vak did was to tell me how to make what we call a mind-compass, and gave me the brain- patterns of his volunteers. I followed his directions and fed the first brain- pattern into the mind- compass.”

Thorne leaned forward intently. “What happened?”

“Nothing. The needle rotated aimlessly. This meant that either there was no physical counterpart of this Martian now alive on earth, or any such double did not have a similar brain-pattern. I fed in the second and third patterns with the same result. But with the fourth pattern, the needle swung directly to a given point and remained there.” Morgan opened a drawer in the little table and took out some pencil sketches. “Recognize this man?” he asked, handing a sketch to Thorne.

“Your assistant - Boyd, you called him?”

“Correct. Under the influence of Lal Vak’s thoughts, I drew a picture of Frank Boyd. To shorten the story, I found him in an Alaskan mining camp. He was interested in the venture I proposed - he is now on Mars.”

“But - I just saw him..

“You saw the body of Frank Boyd, which is now inhabited by Sel Han, a Martian. On Mars, Sel Han’s body is occupied by Frank Boyd, an Earthman. But I made one terrible mistake.”

“What was that?”

“In my eagerness to find a volunteer, I did not investigate Frank Boyd. Sel Han has cooperated with Lal Vak and me, but once on Mars, Frank Boyd broke contact - and without his cooperation, it could not be maintained. I have learned through Lal Vak that Boyd has allied himself with a group of Martians who are out to seize power and set up an empire over the entire planet. Mars is presently in a state roughly analogous to our middle ages, socially, though in some branches of science they are in advance of us. But theirs is not a machine civilization, and an adventurer who is also a fighting man - or adept at intrigue - can go far there.”

Harry Thorne grinned. “Let me see if I can guess the rest of the story. You’ve loosed an unsavory character on Mars and feel you’ve wronged your friend, Lal Vak, so you want to undo the damage if you can. You fed more brain- patterns into the object compass, and eventually the brain-pattern of...”

“...This man,” Morgan agreed, passing him another sketch. Thorne took it and saw a drawing of himself in minute detail.

“But that was not enough,” he said. “You didn’t want to repeat your error, so you spent some time investigating me first.”

Dr. Morgan smiled. “And the results were most satisfactory - to me. You had a good war record in Korea, you’ve been on hunting expeditions to Africa, and you’ve been in business. Your recent difficulties, which resulted in the loss of your fiancée and your business - left you a pauper, in fact - came out of your refusal to go along with your partner’s dubious (though legal) manipulations. He wiped you out and took your girl, too... In short, you are a man who might well do what Lal Vak and I feared impossible.”

Harry Thorne nodded. “Assuming that you can send me on this strange mission, what would you want me to do?”

“Only two things. Remain in touch with me, through Lal Vak, as much as possible, and, if you can, kill Frank Boyd - the Martian Sel Han. Otherwise, your life on Mars will be your own, to live as you choose, or as the Martians choose to let you live. If you are able to rise above your environment - as I think you will be - you will find opportunities there you could never hope for here. You will find a world of romance and adventure undreamed of outside of fiction. And if you are not equally quick with sword and wits, you will find death. Knowing you to be an expert fencer - yes, I found out that you had tried to get a job with a fencing instructor and was turned down because you beat him, too easily - I don’t think I need worry about you on the first count.”

“The prospect appeals to me,” Thorne admitted. “But I refuse to murder a man I have never seen.”

“If you oppose Sel Han’s designs, I assure you that you will have to kill him or be killed. There’s no question of murder - it will be simple and justifiable self-defense... Then–you’ll go?”

“I’ll at least make the attempt, with your assistance. How does this personality-transfer take place?”

“I can only describe it as a sort of phasing of similar vibrations, represented by your brain-pattern and that of the Martian volunteer. But first I must put you under hypnosis. Then I will contact Lal Vak, and we will work together. He will be on hand to meet you when you awake in the body of a Martian. Now come over here and lie on the sofa.”

Thorne did as Dr. Morgan directed, and found that he was looking into a mirror painted with alternate circles of red and black. The doctor touched a button and the mirror began to rotate slowly. Morgan’s voice came to him, “Now think of that distant world, far off in time and space. Think of it beckoning you.”

Thorne obeyed, his eyes fixed on the mirror. He began to feel drowsy, a pleasant lassitude stealing over him. The doctor’s voice faded...

CHAPTER II

Thorne opened his eyes and looked up into a cloudless blue-gray sky that was like a vault of burnished steel. A diminutive sun blazed down upon him but oddly enough, with its heat and light seemingly unimpaired.

The heat, in fact, was so great that it made him draw back into the relatively cold shade of the scaly-trunked conifer that towered above him, its crown of needle-like foliage gathered into a bellshaped tuft. Then conviction came to him. He was really on Mars! Wide awake, now, he sat bolt upright and looked about him. The tree that sheltered him stood alone in a small depression, surrounded by a billowing sea of ochre-yellow sand.

He scrambled to his feet, and as he did so, something clanked at his side. Two straight-bladed weapons hung there, both sheathed in a gray metal that resembled aluminum. One, he judged, was a Martian dagger, and the other a sword. The hilt of the larger weapon was fashioned of a metal of the color of brass, the pommel representing a serpent’s head, the grip, its body, and the guard, the continuation of the body and tail coiled in the form of a figure eight. The hilt of the dagger was like that of the sword, but smaller.

Thorne drew the sword from its sheath. The steel blade was slender and two-edged, and tapered to a needlelike point. Both edges were armed with tiny razor-sharp teeth which he instantly saw would add greatly to its effectiveness as a cutting weapon. He tested its balance and found he could wield it as easily as any duelling sword he had ever had in his hand.

Replacing the sword in the sheath, he examined the dagger, and found it also edged with tiny teeth. The blade of this weapon was about ten inches in length.

Depending from the belt on the other side, and heavy enough to balance the weight of the sword and dagger, was a mace with a short brazen handle and a disk-shaped head of steel which was fastened fanwise on the haft, thick at the middle and tapering out at the edges to sawlike teeth, much coarser and longer than those on sword or dagger.

Thorne turned his attention to his apparel. He was wearing a breechclout of soft leather. Beneath this, and down to the center of his shins, his limbs were bare and considerably sunburned. Below this point were the rolled tops of a pair of long boots, made from fur and fitted with clasps which were obviously for the purpose of attaching them to the bottom of the breechclout when they were drawn up.

Above the waist his sun-tanned body was bare of clothing, but he wore a pair of broad metal armlets, a pair of bracelets with long bars attached, evidently to protect the forearm from sword cuts, and a jewelled medallion, suspended on his chest from a chain around his neck and inscribed with strange characters.

On his head was a bundle of silky material with a short, soft nap, rolled much like a turban and held in place by one brass-studded strap that passed around his forehead, and another that went beneath his chin.

Beyond a large sand dune, and not more than a quarter of a mile distant, he saw the waving bellshaped crowns of a small grove of trees similar to the one that sheltered him. He started toward the clump of conifers.

As soon as he stepped out into the blaze of the midday sun, Thorne began to feel uncomfortably warm. Soon he noted other signs of Martian life. Immense, gaudily tinted butterflies, some with wing spreads of more than six feet, flew up from the flower patches at his approach. A huge dragon fly zoomed past, looking much like a miniature airplane.

Suddenly he heard an angry hum beside him, and felt a searing pain in his left side. Seemingly out of nowhere a fly, yellow and red in color and about two feet in length, had darted down upon him and plunged its many-pointed proboscis into his flesh. Seizing the sharp bill of his assailant, he wrenched it from his side.

The insect buzzed violently but Thorne, still clinging to its bill, reached for his dagger with the other hand and cut off its head. Flinging the hideous thing at the body, he caught up a handful of sand to stanch the bleeding of his wound. Presently, he started forward once more.

He was nearing the top of the dune when he saw, coming over the ridge from the other side, a most singular figure. At first glance it looked much like a walking umbrella. Then it resolved itself into a man wearing a long loose-sleeved cloak which covered him from the crown of his head to his knees. Below the cloak the end of a scabbard was visible, as were a pair of rolled fur boots like those worn by Thorne. The face was covered with a mask of flexible transparent material.

Thorne stopped, and instinctively his hand went to his sword hilt.

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