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.”

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.