Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 20 – Our Goal Is In Sight



Chapter 20 – Our Goal Is In Sight

We were propelled forward by the engines of our fine ship. After we had been travelling a few hours, Chronto spotted a plume of dust rising on the horizon.

“They are about 25 batu ahead.” He said. “They appear to be heading for the Palamnus.”

“What is the Palamnus?” I asked.

“The Palamnus is a group of low hills where water can be found.” Chronto said. “There is a village there, one of the few permanent settlements in this desert region.”

“Will the inhabitants be friendly toward us?” I asked.

“That depends on who else it there.” Chronto said. “I suspect some of Jordak’s followers will be meeting him there, which will mean trouble for us.”

I had Professor Edgren call Kumlik over.

“How much sooner can we get to Palamnus than Jordak?” I asked the pilot.

“At the rate Jordak is travelling, he will reach the town tomorrow evening.” He said. “We can arrive there in the morning by using our engines all night, however navigation will be difficult.”

“We must get there in time to scout the situation and set a trap for Jordak.” I said. “We will also need time to engage and defeat the locals, if necessary. I addition, we must stay out of sight of Jordak’s column.”

“Very well, it shall be done.” Kumlik replied.

We dropped down to 50 feet and altered our course slightly. We were passing to the right of Jordak’s column, staying below the horizon. This kept us from Jordak’s view and out of sight of anyone travelling along the Scamander canal. Chronto and Private Fandru continued tracking the faint dust cloud raised by Jordak’s passage. As night fell, a last look showed us overtaking the bandit’s retinue.

Once we were cloaked in darkness, we rose to about 200 feet above the surface. Behind us a small light identified Jordak’s camp. At this point, we could only hope that Miss Linton was unharmed. For my part, I had to focus on our plans for her rescue. Ahead of us were the lights of the village of Palamnus, though we were still several hours away. I called the pilot over.

“Will we be there before dawn?” I asked through Professor Edgren.

“Indeed,” he replied, “we will be there before the sun rises.”

“We will need a place to hide the ship that is close to the town.” I said.

Kumlik said “there is valley between Jordak and Palamnus that we can land in. It will be convenient for both parts of our quest.”

“Bully!” I replied. “Make it so. Now, Chronto, we must make plans to seize control of Palamnus if they do not cooperate.”

Chronto and I went into the cabin to discuss our situation. Kumlik’s charts were very helpful. They showed that the Palamnus was a series of parallel hills running for a couple of miles northeast from the Scamander canal. The hills are bisected by a trough through which a path leads to the town. We suspected that Jordak and his men would come along that path.

It was decided that we would land north of the road. From there, I would take Chronto’s company and a platoon of my men to scout out Palamnus. If necessary, we would engage any hostiles and take control of the town. The rest of my men would man the heights overlooking the desert plain. From there they could watch the approach of Jordak and his men. It was my hope that we would have control of the town before Jordak arrived and we could take him inside the town. I felt an engagement in the open would be too dangerous for Miss Linton.

With our plans made, we prepared our equipment and waited to reach our destination. As we proceeded, the light from Jordak’s camp got smaller while the lights from Palamnus brightened. After some hours, we turned northeastward and lowered our altitude.

We are moving to the north end of the hills.” Chronto said. “Once we reach the end, we will turn around and proceed down the valley between the first and second rises.”

“What do you suppose will be waiting for us in Palamnus?” I asked.

“I cannot say.” Chronto said. “I would expect one maybe two Fuko of Jordak's followers.”

“Good,” I said. “If we can take them by surprise, then we have a good chance of rooting them out of the town before Jordak is too close.”

We made our turn and slid between the hills, just above the ground. This slowed our progress considerably. Finally, we made it to our stopping point. We had an hour before sunrise, so we had to hurry. Sargent Fish took his platoon to the hilltop on our left so he could watch the plain for Jordak’s approach. Sargent Langston led my other platoon. They, along Chronto’s company and I moved toward the town. Chronto sent two on his men ahead to scout the town. While Martian eyes are better in the utter darkness of the night here, my men and I made slow progress. However, we made it to the outskirts of the village before the sun broke the horizon.

As we arrived, one of Chronto’s men returned. He spoke with Chronto for a good bit, which worried me about the safety of his other man. Finally, Chronto turned to me to explain the results of his reconnaissance.

There is in fact a Fuko here.” He said. “But they are not Jordak’s men. They wear the livery of the dead Tevas we hound at Jordak’s first camp.”

“It appears that Jordak is the victim of some treachery.” I said. “That makes me fear even more for Miss Linton’s safety.”

“As do I.” said Chronto. “However, at this time we must devote our attention to the capture of this village. My man has gone into the stables and led away the bandit’s mounts. At dawn, he will lead them here. This will draw out the bandits and bring them into our ambush.”

I will send half my men around behind the village to ensure no one slips out that way.” Chronto continued.

“Good,” I said “we should have this wrapped up in plenty of time to be ready for the men escorting Miss Linton.”