Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars - Chapter 12 – An Encounter With The Mang-aso

Chapter 12 – An Encounter With The Mang-aso
Private Fandru returned to inform me about Melderk’s movements. First he went to a bar, then to the Guard’s barracks, and finally to the Mayor’s office. This is pretty much what I had expected. It was one more bit of circumstantial evidence against the government, bit still not the definitive proof that I needed.

The next two weeks were tense, but uneventful. Then the tension, for us at least, was reduced by the arrival of reinforcements. We were now up to our three company allotment. We were also given two Gatling Guns and a 1.65 inch Hotchkiss mountain gun. These gave us some much needed firepower. With this influx of equipment and personnel, the Martians spent a lot of time reflecting on their next moves.

With the free time available, I was able to learn how to ride a Moa-iti, the smaller of the two riding birds. Being so mounted gave me a much greater range of operation. In order to take advantage of this increased mobility, I needed at least one companion. For this, my friend from the restaurant, Borlak, recommended a mercenary scout named Chronto. He was a staunch member of the democracy movement, which meant I could trust him with my life.

An interesting feature of Martian cognitive development is that their ability to learn languages remains active throughout their lives, whereas for most humans, myself included, this faculty goes dormant in early adulthood. That only a small percentage of humans retain this ability is what makes men like Professor Edgren so valuable. Chronto’s exposure to Professor Linton (at various Democracy meetings) had already given him enough command of our language so that we could communicate without assistance.

So it was that Bully, Chronto, and I went exploring to the south of the fort. As we rode, Chronto described many of the plants that could cause my men and I grief in combat. We also discussed the political situation as best we could. We were even able to teach the other a few words of our respective languages.

We moved out of the cultivated area, the country watered by the canals, into what is called the marginal area. This zone receives runoff from the irrigation, making it wetter than the desert. The plant life in this area is a hybrid of cultivated crops and desert flora. It was here that Chronto began point out some of the wildlife. We saw many varieties of birds, reptiles, and small to medium sized mammals. Being out in the country raised the urge to hunt. I was carrying a Remington-Lee bolt action rifle, my pistol (with the holster modified to the western style), and my saber. In Martian society, skill in hand to hand combat is prized more than any other martial skill. My defeat of Melderk with a single blow greatly increased the credibility of our martial prowess.

As we rode, we spotted a herd of wild Bumatak. This large mammal resembles an earth rhinoceros with a single massive horn. It is covered with a thick short hair. The bumatak has been domesticated and is used as a beast of burden, pulling Martian wheeled transports or simply loaded down with various trade goods. I asked Chronto about how we could procure a few Bumatak to transport our artillery and camp equipage. He told me that Borlak could help me with the acquisition of the animals that I needed.

As we rode on, I saw in the distance an animal that was most extraordinary. This seems to be a hybrid
creature, a cross between a giant ape and a bear with peculiar features of unknown origin. The creature’s Legs are short in comparison to its body, resembling the hindquarters of a bear. Its long body, above the hindquarters, and its exceptionally long arms are distinctly ape-like. The head and long neck is anomalous to both bear and ape. In its normal “knuckle walking” posture, it stands about 12 foot tall. Chronto told me it was called an Ahvasi. He described the Ahvasi as omnivorous. Its main diet is made up of plants and berries, but this is supplemented with meat. They have been known to hunt in packs of up to 8 animals. Typically, they hunt small to mid-sized animals, but attacking man sized creatures is not uncommon.

We stopped for lunch in a brushy area. With a high temperature in the 70s this time of year, the rest was quite pleasant. Lounging on the ground was a welcome relief after four hours in the saddle, especially since it had been months since I had ridden anything. Chronto busied himself making the noon-time meal.

It was then that Bully came to attention. At first he sniffed the air and, facing to the southeast began a low growl. I quickly grabbed my rifle, stood up and looked in the same direction as Bully. I could see nothing, but Bully continued in his agitated state, so I remained vigilant. Chronto, noticing my actions, grabbed his weapon and joined me.

“What is your animal doing?” he asked.

“He smells something he does not like.” I replied. “However, being unfamiliar with how scent travels on the Martian air, I cannot venture a guess as to how close the creature is.”

Chronto said, “shall I go look for the creature?”

“No.” I said. “Let’s stay together. I do not want either of us to be caught at unawares, and Bully will let us know when it gets closer.”

Chronto nodded. In a few moments, Bully’s growling became more pronounced and even our mounts began to show signs of agitation. Bully began to turn his head and moving about the camp.

“Your animal is acting strangely.” Chronto said.

“It appears that there is more than one thing out there and that they are trying to surround us.” I replied.

With that Bully started barking fiercely in the direction of our moa and the birds were wild-eyed with fear. I turned in that direction just in time to see a large quadrupedal beast lunge from the brush. I threw up my rifle and fired off a snap shot, hitting the beast between the shoulder and neck. It crashed limply to the ground, the shot apparently breaking the creature’s backbone. 

The moa were frantic and tore their reins from the tree where they were tied and bolted. I dropped the rifle to try to catch them, but the attempt was in vain. As I moved after the birds, Bully rushed in the direction of Chronto. I heard Chronto scream and the report of his gun. I turned to see another of these beasts standing over him with Bully jumping around snapping at the creature. I drew my pistol and knelt down so that the angle of my shots would not hit Chronto. When bully hopped out of the way, I fired, hitting the beast in the shoulder. The creature screamed like a wounded lion, then bolted out of sight. Bully moved to give chase, but I ordered him to heel. I heard other movement through the brush, that was moving away.

I rushed over to Chronto to discover his condition. He was laid out, facedown on the ground. There were a couple of minor scratches on his arms and back, but nothing too serious. I gently rolled him over and saw a bloody nose and a few more scratches on his chest. These were a little deeper, and possibly more serious. I fetched a water bottle from the cooking supplies and splashed water over his face. This revived him somewhat, and he began to come to his senses.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Yes, I believe I am relatively whole.” He said.

“Sit here and rest a bit,” I said “I will get some bandages to dress your wounds.”

I went to our supplies again and found something to use for bandages. I then retrieved my rifle and went back to help Chronto. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, after which he had regained his wits and determined that his wounds were mostly superficial. We moved over to our camp and asked him what had happened.

“We were looking into the bush, when I saw your animal race toward our mounts. Then you turned and shot the mang-aso. As you were trying to get our mounts, your animal rushed in my direction howling madly. I turned to see another mang-aso was on me. I fired my gun, but missed and was bowled over by the beast. It’s head smashed into my face and with that I lost consciousness. You must tell me what happened after that.” He said.

I replied, “I heard your shot and turned to see the creature standing over you with Bully snapping at it, which I believe kept you alive. I moved in closer and shot the beast with my revolver and it ran off into the bush.  I also heard other creatures move off with the wounded animal.”

Chronto said, “The mang-aso usually hunt in packs of from seven to twelve animals.”

The mang-aso is a large animal, easily twelve feet long. It’s physiology has aspects of canine and feline anatomy. Its head resembles a mastiff while the body is somewhat cat-like, though heavier. It’s canine teeth are oversized and therefore, the Mang-aso would be classed with the saber-toothed animals of prehistoric Earth.

After I made Chronto comfortable, I went out to find our moa-iti. I was expecting to find scattered feathers and bits of harness, having been told that there could have been up to twelve of the creatures that assailed us.  Fortunately, our birds must have run in the opposite direction from the fleeing mang-aso. I found our mounts, no worse for wear, some distance off cheerfully pecking at berries.
I returned to camp with our mounts and found Chronto in a much improved condition. We finished our midday meal and packed up our kit.  I asked if he felt that he could ride, to which he replied in the affirmative.  Then we mounted up and headed home.

As we rode, Chronto said, “Thank you and you animal for saving my life.”

“Don’t mention it.” I said. “ All members of an expedition are important and we must do our utmost to ensure their safety.”

“Here,” Chronto said, “only the moa-nui will fight alongside their masters and then only after a long period of training. Your animal, Bully, came to my aid even though we are strangers.”

“Yes,” I replied, “Dogs are pack animals and protection of the pack’s members are their foremost concern. Because you were traveling with me, you are considered part of our pack, and afforded all of the rights of a pack member.”

Chronto pondered this at length as we rode home.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! Chapter 11 – Talking With The Prisoner

Chapter 11 – Talking With The Prisoner
We took our prisoner back to our fort and put him into a makeshift jail. I then called my officers and advisors together to recount the events of the morning. I then asked about what was learned from the wounded Martians in our custody.

Professor Linton started, “These men were hired by an unknown agent from the region around Isidis. They were paid the going rate and were told that it would be an easy job because they would out number their foe three to one.”

Lieutenant Ballard interjected, “I’ll wager the next bunch gets paid better.”

“Indeed.” Professor Linton continued. “These deals are typically carried out in this manner, it protects the parties involved.”

Professor Boas then took up the narrative. “These mercenaries are professional fighting men and not just desert tribesmen out to make extra money. Their poor showing today is due to the fact that they expected to be fighting city guards, which are typically a lower class of fighting man. Rest assured, our next encounter will not be so easy.”

“I will hold my judgement of our adversaries until I become more familiar with them.”, I said. “However valuable this information is; it does not get us closer to discovering who hired them.”

“Not directly.” Said Professor Boas. “However, the examination of the property carried by the dead and wounded revealed a greater number of Ceraunian coinage than expected for men from Isidis.”

“That is condemning circumstantial evidence,” I said, “however, it is not definitive proof that the instigator came from here. It can be argued that the perpetrator used Ceraunian coins to shift the blame away from the actual guilty party. Reytik supplied us with a good number of possible culprits in our interview.”

“Did we get any hints from your interviews with the wounded?”, I asked.

“Not about who hired them.”, said Miss Linton. “However, I did learn something about the size of the underground self-government movement.”

“What have you learned?”, I asked.

“It appears that this movement has permeated the lower social classes almost completely. And it is not just confined to the Ceraunius sphere of influence. It has expanded to the neighboring city-states.”, Professor Linton said.

“Who makes up these lower classes?”, I asked.

Professor Boas explained, “The agrarian community, the commercial community, and some parts of the warrior community.”

“What parts of the military?”, I inquired.

“One group is the mercenaries that we encountered today are part of the movement.”, Professor Boas said. “The units attached to the government and the upper echelons of the mercenary formations are pro establishment, of course.”

“This sounds like the majority of the population.”, I said. “So why is it that it appears that this movement is making no gains?”

“There is no unifying force to solidify these disparate groups into a single powerful movement.”, Professor Boas said. “We are sitting on a powder keg, once a prophet is found to unite the downtrodden, the entire region will explode into a great, and probably a terribly violent, revolution.”  

 “Very well.”, I said. “Let’s go see what that hired gun has to say.”

Professor Edgren and I made our way to the makeshift jail. Our man was sitting, staring at a blank wall, aloof to the goings on around him. We entered the room and sat down at the table, opposite the man. He had his back to us. I started with introductions.

“I am Colonel Roosevelt and this is Mr. Edgren. We would like to know your name, please.”

He said, “I am Melderk.”

“Very good, Mr. Melderk, can you tell me why you provoked a fight with us?” I asked.

“Sir, it was you who intruded into my affairs.” He said.

“You sir, interrupted our meal by intimidating our host”, I responded.

“He needed to be reminded of his place. These shopkeepers and farmers are becoming too bold for their own good. And it has been getting worse since you Earthers arrived.” Melderk said.

So, you do not approve of these people striving to control their own destiny?” I said.

“Ha! These people can barely control their own kitchens. They would do better to leave the control of the government to those bred for it.” he retorted. 

“So, you and the other City Guards with you were merely attempting to maintain the natural order of life in Ceraunius, correct?” I asked.

“That is correct.” Melderk replied.

“Very well, Mr. Melderk. What can you tell me about the attack on our base this morning?” I asked.
“Mercenaries, hired by those wishing to maintain order in our society.” He replied.
“Are you referring to members of the Ceraunian ruling class?” I inquired.
“Mars is bigger than just Ceraunius,” He said. “Our cities are connected by more than just canals.”
“Indeed.” I replied. “However, for now, I am only concerned with this small area. So, do you believe that our presence here is disrupting the order of your society?”
“My beliefs are of no consequence.” Melderk responded.
“Then your superiors object to our being here.” I prodded.
“No more than you and your kind objected when the Nagi-Fej wished to take charge of your world.” He replied.
“Very well, Mr. Melderk,” I said, “you are free to go. However, I would like you to deliver a message to your master.”

“What is that?” he asked.

“Tell Mr. Reytik that I will not tolerate his minions molesting those of the merchant or farming communities that choose to do business with us.” I said.

“I will deliver your message,” Melderk responded, “but be aware that it will take more than winning a tavern brawl and thrashing worthless mercenaries to gain overlordship here.”

To that, I said, “Good day Mr. Melderk.” And had him escorted out of our fort. I then ordered Private Charles J. Fandru, a Caddo Indian, to trail him and report on any stops he made.

Well, Professor,” I said “I appears we may be getting into something much bigger than we once thought.”

“Indeed it does.”  Professor Edgren said. “Let’s hope that the city-states are no better organized than the Democratic movement is."

"At this point, I feel we are fighting an undeclared “small war” with Reytik and the Ceraunian “nobility”." I said." Hopefully, our good showing in both of our encounters will lessen their zeal to try something else.”

“I hope our reinforcements arrive soon.” Professor Edgren said. “That would give Reytik further pause before he considers his next move.”

“I agree whole-heartedly.” I replied.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 10 – Breakfast And A Show

Chapter 10 – Breakfast And A Show
The restaurant was indistinguishable from the other buildings, except for the small placard near the door.

“Tell me, Professor, is there some way that I can decipher what a particular building is used for other than learning to read the Martian script?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, no.” he replied. “However, each door sign is laid out in a specific manner. For example, this sign,” Professor Edgren said, pointing at the placard in front of us, “states on the top row of characters, that this establishment is a restaurant. All of the door signs state the manner of business on the top line. The remaining lines describe the business in greater detail. Here, the sign tells us that this establishment specializes in the cuisine of Alba. I could make you a pamphlet listing the general types of business in both English and Martian. That way you would at least have some idea of what you were walking into.”

“I would be most grateful.” I said.

With that, we entered the building. The room was filled with round tables, surrounded by four chairs each. I pointed to two tables that provided us a view of the main door and each of the corridors leading from our room. I didn’t want anyone sneaking up on us while we were occupied with our meal. The four privates sat at one table, while Sergeant Langston, Professor Edgren, and I sat at the other.

A waiter came to our table, rather pensively, and addressed us in his own language. Professor Edgren replied in the same tongue. I would assume it was a typical exchange of pleasantries, as the waiter relaxed noticeably upon the Professor’s reply. The waiter strode of and returned with drinks and what I guesses were menus. The Professor and waiter exchanged a few more words and the waiter left again.

I said, “As I can neither make heads nor tails out of the menu, I would like you to order for us, if you please.”

“Of course.” Said the Professor. Then he asked, “So, what did you think of our interview with Reytik?”   

“It was about what I had expected,” I said, “though his comments about the desert tribes and rural towns was a bit of a surprise. This indicates to me, that the secret societies are becoming more trouble and less secret than was once thought.”

“I have to agree with you on that point.” The Professor said. “It also appears as though he wants us to take on the job of pacifying them.”

I do not feel that I have enough knowledge of the political situation here to determine who is in the right.” I said. “Reytik is our representative from the government side, but we need to find a representative from the rebel side to hear their grievances. Maybe Miss Linton could find us a contact.”

“Perhaps. It could be dangerous for her though.” Replied Professor Edgren. 

“I know. Before I ask her to do anything, we will see if the others have any suggestions on how to proceed.” I said.

With that, our breakfast was served. It resembled earth food in form, though the color was different. The men that were with me had all experienced Martian cuisine before, so they knew what to expect. I, on the other hand, was experiencing it for the first time. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised as the flavor was quite good.

As we finished our meal, several Martians came in, all armed with swords and Martian pistols. The tension in the room suddenly rose to near breaking. Two of my privates moved slightly to give themselves room to act. Benjamin Franklin Daniels, a very large, hawk-eyed man, had been Marshal of Dodge City when that pleasing town was probably the toughest abode of civilized man to be found anywhere on the continent. Thomas Horn, Jr. was six foot two inches tall and had the cold eyes of a hired killer.

The Martians glared at us then walked over to our waiter (who was also the owner of the establishment). There appeared to be heated words exchanged between the armed men and the shopkeeper.

I asked the Professor, “What are they saying to our host?”

“I appears that these mercenaries do not like the fact that we are being served here.” Professor Edgren said.

I asked the Professor to follow me as I strode up to the belligerent man. “Sir, do not berate this gentleman for pursuing his business.” I said. The Professor translated my words to the ruffian. The mercenary scowled at me and turned back to the restauranteur.

He grabbed the shop owner by the shirt and raised his fist to strike the man. I seized the toughs’
raised arm and spun him around. I said, “You and your men had best leave this establishment before someone gets hurt.”

Once the Professor had translated what I had said, the Martian soldier flashed a look of rage and moved to draw his sword. As his sword cleared its scabbard, I caught his arm at the wrist with my left hand and struck him squarely on the chin with a right uppercut. The blow lifted the man off the ground and he then crumpled to the floor.

The other Martians looked at each other and then at my men. I could tell that one of them, at least, was going to do something foolish.

Private Horn said, “Don’t worry Colonel, we can take them.”

Private Daniels agreed, “they won’t be too much trouble.”

These two men did not use the regulation flap-over holster that they were issued. Instead they wore a western cowboy holster. I was soon to learn the merits of this substitution. I began to speak, trying to defuse the situation. This had no effect, as the action started before the Professor was able to translate.

One of the Martians moved to draw his pistol. Privates Horn and Daniels were up in a flash, revolvers in hand. Before the Martian’s long barreled pistol had cleared his belt, shots rang out. Three Martians fell to the ground mortally shot. The remaining Martians fell over themselves getting out the door.

“I didn’t think they had much fight in them.” Private Horn said.

“Nope. There good about pushin’ around unarmed civilians, but they have no stomach for a stand up fight.” Private Daniels said.

Sergeant Langston came to me and said, “Colonel, it might be best if we settled things here quickly and head back to the fort. I fear that those who got away might go after reinforcements.”

“I think that would be wise.” I said. “Sergeant, bound the hands of that man. We’ll take him with us. Have your men drag the bodies of the others out to the street.”

I looked over to the proprietor, who appeared shocked and confused. Through the Professor, I told him, “Have no fear, my good man, we bear you no malice. We are here to protect you and other merchants from the oppressions of thugs like these.”

“I appreciate your concern for my welfare,” he said “but what will happen when you return to your outpost?”

“If you have any trouble from Reytik’s mercenaries, send a message to me immediately and I will send some men out directly to help you.” I replied. “This will do until I can find a place to put a guardhouse here in town.”

“Thank you sir.” He said. “My name is Borlak. If there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you Mr. Borlak.” I said “It will be most helpful for us to have a friend here in town.”

“Might I as you a question, Mr. Roosevelt?” Borlak asked.
“Of course you may.”, I replied.

“No one here in Ceraunius cares about anyone outside their caste. Why do you and your men defend the shopkeepers from the mercenaries?” he asked.

“The most important law of America, where we are from, states that all men are created equal and that each man is free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness free from the fear that other men or organizations will force him to their will and prevent him from living his life freely.” I said “We wish to bring these values to the inhabitants of Mars, so that both of our peoples can prosper.”

“Your nation has adopted the beliefs that many of the non-ruling classes dream of achieving.” Borlak said. “One day, we will have a government such as yours.”

“Be assured, Mr. Borlak,” I said “you will have the full backing of the United States government and its military forces in obtaining your goals. Now, with that, I must be about my business. Mr. Borlak, please send me the bill for repairing any damage to your establishment and I will pay for it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt.” He said.

With that, we took our prisoner and headed back to our post.