Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 19 – To The Chase



Chapter 19 – To The Chase

Floating before us was a magnificent ship. It was built angular and sleek. The wood on Mars cannot be bent, so there are no curved lines on Martian vessels. But the most remarkable thing about the craft was that it was floating not in water, but in the air!

As we marveled at the ship Borlak entered. “She is a beautiful vessel, is she not.” He said.

“Indeed.” I replied, “she is marvelous. This is the first flying ship that I have seen.”

“The Iska Mahayi is beautiful and fast.” Borlak said. “She will make 170 batu a sol without being pressed.”

“That is faster than the average wind speed, if I am not mistaken.” I said. “How can she manage that speed?”

“I have some friends who outfitted her with some Albian engines, so she can run on the wind or her own motive power.” Borlak said. “The Iska Mahayi carries enough fuel to run her engines nonstop for 14 sol.”

“Well, we should have no problem catching up to Jordak now.” I said. “I suppose the major problem will be finding him in the vastness of the Martian desert.”

“Chronto is very good at tracking.” Borlak said. “I think that you will find your quarry soon enough.”

Once the ship was loaded and the men embarked, Borlak introduced me to his pilot, Kumlik. Unfortunately, he could not speak English. So, Professor Edgren’s services were again needed. Kumlik and the rest of his crew were long time associates of Borlak involved in the contraban trade in and out of Ceraunius. Borlak assured me that he and his crew could be trusted beyond doubt.

We pulled out of the warehouse in the early morning hours, while it was still dark. The sails were unfurled as the ship gently rose up into the sky. As the sails filled with the breeze, we moved silently over the city. It was not long before our northwesterly path carried us past the limits of Ceraunius and over the open desert. We kept the Scamander canal in view off the port side as we cruised about 100’ above the surface.

As the sun rose behind us, I could see Ceraunius shrinking into the distance. With the coming of the sun, Kumlik’s crew went to work reefing the sails. I, with Professor Edgren, went over to the pilot to find out what was happening.

He said, “We are switching to our engines. It will increase our speed and maneuverability. We will be looking for signs of the passage of Jordak and this requires precision movements that cannot be obtained using the wind.”

“Very good.” I replied through the Professor. “Please keep me informed of any findings.”

“I will.” Kumlik replied.

I noticed Chronto at the bow of the ship looking intently through a spyglass. He was scanning the ground from side to side in front of us.  Private Fandru, my Caddo Indian scout, was with Chronto behaving in a similar manner.

I asked, “Have you found anything?”

Chronto replied, “No. the ground near town is too well traveled to yield any information. After we have gone another 10 or 15 batu we should find something.”

“Very well.” I said “Let me know when you find something.”

I busied myself studying a topographic map of the region, trying to discern where the bandits might be heading. Figuring the 40 batu a day estimate that Chronto gave me and the probability that they would need to find water soon, I noted a couple of oases approximately 120 batu from  Ceraunius. Once we had determined the direction that the bandits were heading perhaps we could determine which oasis they were making for, get ahead of them and set up an ambush.

I took my map to Chronto and asked him what he thought of the plan.

“You plan is sound, Mr. Roosevelt.” He said. “However, the desert nomads have many secret ways to cross the desert. They may be able to avoid the know watering places.”

“Once we have determined their line of march, perhaps we can find some high ground where we can watch them undetected. Then we can find a location on their line of travel from which we can spring our ambush.” I suggested.

“That too is a reasonable plan.” Chronto replied. “Let us locate our quarry first, then determine the best plan of action.”

At this time Private Fandru called, “Sir, I see where a group of riders has split off from the main track.”

Indeed, there were two divergent track now. The main track paralleled the canal, while a second smaller trail headed out into the desert. Chronto grabbed up his spyglass and intently studied the second path. After a long moment, he lowered his glass and turned to me.

“Let us follow this smaller track for two teev (a teev is approximately one Earth hour). Within that time, if we find signs of a camp, then this is the bandits’ trail” Chronto said.
“Let’s inform the pilot immediately.” I said.

So we when to the pilot and we changed our course. Chronto and Private Fandru continued to observe the trail.

The Private said, “It looks to be about 3 score riders came this way.”

“I believe you are correct.” Chronto accented. “ And one animal in the center of the group appears to be carrying a heavier load than the others.”

After the allotted time, Chronto requested that the ship descend. Below us the ground was cut up by many feet moving about. We came to rest about 50 yards from the disturbed area and Chronto, Private Fandru, Professor Edgren, and I went to investigate the scene. When we arrived at the scene, it was obvious that this was a camp.

“Their Moa were picketed over there.” Chronto pointed to the edge of the camp. “There was one tent. The rest slept on the bare ground.”
Private Fandru said, “there appears to have been a scuffle, here is blood on the ground.”

We went over to the private and observed what he had found.

“This is Martian blood.” Chronto said. “Apparently, our bandits have had a disagreement as to their course of action.”

Professor Edgren followed some footprints up a small rise. He then exclaimed, “Come quick! I’ve found something.”

We climbed the rise to find what appeared to be a shallow grave on the down hill side.

“We must investigate this more closely.” I said.

I went to the grave and began to reveal its contents. There I found a desert tribesman with a bullet hole in his temple. I pulled the corpse from the grave so that the entire body could be examined.

“This is a Tevas from one or Jordak’s Fuko. He must have angered his master.” Chronto said.

In the dead man’s hand I found a scrap of fabric. I took it for a closer look.

“I believe this is from Miss Linton’s clothing.” I said, handing the scrap to the Professor.

“You are right Roosevelt, It was torn from her collar!” exclaimed the Professor.

“This explains why the Tevas is dead.” Said Chronto.

“How so?” asked the Professor.

“Jordak is an honorable bandit.” Chronto explained. “When he kidnaps a person for ransom, he is duty bound not to allow any harm to come to his hostage. This man did not have the same morale character as Jordak and paid for that with his life.”

“So, you are saying Miss Linton is not in danger?” I asked.

“Not from Jordak’s men.” Chronto said. “However, this man’s Fuko may harbor a grudge, which could bode ill for both Jordak and the lady.”

“Then we must hurry with our rescue!” I said.

“We have no time to lose.” Said Chronto. “Miss Linton will not be riding double now, so they can make better time. We must get back to the ship and make all haste.”

With that, we hurried back to the Iska Mahayi, boarded and got underway.

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