Back home Glossary About Cover
white The Barsoom series
  branch Llana of Gathol
    branch Invisible men of Mars
Previous page Next page navigation 42/53 dots branch Chapter 2.  
         
Next paragraph       I landed on level ground close to the forest, and telling Llana to remain aboard the flier ready to take off at a moment's notice, I went in search of food. The forest consisted principally of skeel, sorapus, and sompus trees. The first two are hardwood trees bearing large, delicious nuts, while the sompus trees were loaded with a citrus-like fruit with a thin red rind. The pulp of this fruit, called somp, is not unlike grapefruit, though much sweeter. It is considered a great delicacy among Barsoomians, and is cultivated along many of the canals. I had never seen any, however, as large as these, growing wild; nor had I ever seen trees on Mars of the size of many of those growing in this hidden forest.
Next paragraph       I had gathered as much of the fruit and as many nuts as I could carry, when I heard Llana calling me. There was a note of excitement and urgency in her voice, and I dropped all that I had gathered and ran in the direction of the flier.
Next paragraph       Just before I came out of the forest I heard her scream; and as I emerged, the flier rose from the ground. I ran toward it as fast as I can run, and that is extremely fast under the conditions of lesser gravity which prevail on Mars. I took forty or fifty feet in a leap, and then I sprang fully thirty feet into the air in an effort to seize the rail of the flier. One hand touched the gunwale; but my fingers didn't quite close over the rail, and I slipped back and fell to the ground. However, I had had a glimpse of the deck of the flier, and what I saw there filled me with astonishment and, for some reason, imparted that strange sensation to my scalp as though each separate hair were standing erect Llana lay on the deck absolutely alone, and there was no one at the controls!
Next paragraph       "A noble endeavor," said a voice behind me; "you can certainly jump."
Next paragraph       I wheeled about, my hand flying to the hilt of my sword. There was no one there!
Next paragraph       I looked toward the forest; there was no sign of living thing about me. From behind me came a laugh a taunting, provocative laugh. Again I wheeled. As far as I could see there was only the peaceful Martian landscape. Above me, the flier circled and disappeared beyond the forest flown with no human hand at the controls by some sinister force which I could not fathom.
Next paragraph       "Well," said a voice, again behind me, "we might as well be on our way. You realize, I presume, that you are our prisoner."
Next paragraph       "I realize nothing of the sort," I retorted. "If you want to take me, come and get me come out in the open like men; if you are men."
Next paragraph       "Resistance will be futile," said the voice; "there are twenty of us and only one of you."
Next paragraph       "Who are you?" I demanded.
Next paragraph       "Oh, pardon me," said the voice, "I should have introduced myself. I am Pnoxus, son of Ptantus, jeddak of Invak; and whom have I had the honor of capturing?"
Next paragraph       "You haven't had the honor of capturing me yet," I said. I didn't like that voice it was too oily and polite.
Next paragraph       "You are most unco-operative," said the voice named Pnoxus. "I should hate to have to adopt unpleasant methods with you." The voice was not so sweet now; there was just a faint ring of steel in it.
Next paragraph       "I don't know where you're hiding," I said; "but if you'll come out, all twenty of you, I'll give you a taste of steel. I have had enough of this foolishness."
Next paragraph       "And I've had enough," snapped the voice. Somehow it sounded like a bear trap to me all the oily sweetness had gone out of it. "Take him, men!"
Next paragraph       I looked quickly around for the men, but I was still alone just I and a voice were there. At least that is what I thought until hands seized my ankles and jerked my feet from beneath me. I fell flat on my face, and what felt like half a dozen heavy men leaped on my back and half a dozen hands ripped my sword from my grasp and more hands relieved me of my other weapons. Then unseen hands tied my own behind my back and others fastened a rope around my neck, and the voice said, "Get up!"
Next paragraph       I got up. "If you come without resistance," said the voice named Pnoxus, "it will be much easier for you and for my men. Some of them are quite short tempered, and if you make it difficult for them you may not get to Invak alive."
Next paragraph       "I will come," I said, "but where? For the rest, I can wait."
Next paragraph       "You will be led," said Pnoxus, "and see that you follow where you're led. You've already given me enough trouble."
Next paragraph       "You won't know what trouble is until I can see you," I retorted.
Next paragraph       "Don't threaten; you have already stored up enough trouble for yourself."
Next paragraph       "What became of the girl who was with me?" I demanded.
Next paragraph       "I took a fancy to her," said Pnoxus, "and had one of my men, who can fly a ship, take her on to Invak."
Next paragraph       I cannot tell you what an eerie experience it was being led through that forest by men that I could not see and being talked to by a voice that had no body; but when I realized that I was probably being taken to the place that Llana of Gathol had been taken, I was content, nay, anxious, to follow docilely where I was led.
Next paragraph       I could see the rope leading from my neck out in front of me; it fell away in a gentle curve as a rule and then gradually vanished, vignette-like; sometimes it straightened out suddenly, and then I would feel a jerk at the back of my neck; but by following that ghostly rope-end as it wound among the trees of the forest and watching the bight carefully, so as to anticipate a forthcoming jerk by the straightening of the curve, I learned to avoid trouble.
Next paragraph       In front of me and behind I continually heard voices berating other voices:
Next paragraph       "Sense where you're going, you blundering idiot," or, "Stop stepping on my heels, you fool," or "Who do you think you're bumping into, son-of-a- calot!" The voices seemed to be constantly getting in one another's way. Serious as I felt my situation might be, I could not help but be amused.
Next paragraph       Presently I felt an arm brush against mine, or at least it felt like an arm, the warm flesh of a bare arm; it would touch me for an instant only to be taken away immediately, and then it would touch me again in a measured cadence, as might the arms of two men walking out of step side by side; and then a voice spoke close beside me, and I knew that a voice was walking with me.
Next paragraph       "We are coming to a bad place," said the voice; "you had better take my arm."
Next paragraph       I groped out with my right hand and found an arm that I could not see. I grasped what felt like an upper arm, and as I did so my right hand disappeared! Now, my right arm ended at the wrist, or at least it appeared to do so; but I could feel my fingers clutching that arm that I could not see. It was a most eerie sensation. I do not like situations that I cannot understand.
Next paragraph       Almost immediately we came to an open place in the forest, where no trees grew.
Next paragraph       The ground was covered with tiny hummocks, and when I stepped on it it sank down a few inches. It was like walking on coil springs covered with turf.
Next paragraph       "I'll guide you," said the voice at my side. "If you should get off the trail here alone you'd be swallowed up. The worst that can happen to you now would be to get one leg in it, for I can pull you out before it gets a good hold on you."
Next paragraph       "Thank you," I said; "it is very decent of you."
Next paragraph       "Think nothing of it," replied the voice. "I feel sorry for you; I am always sorry for strangers whom Fate misguides into the forest of Invak. We have another name for it which, I think, better describes it The Forest of Lost Men."
Next paragraph       "It is really so bad to fall into the hands of your people?" I asked.
Next paragraph       "I am afraid that it is," replied the voice; "there is no escape."
Next paragraph       I had heard that one before; so it didn't impress me greatly. The lesser peoples of Barsoom are great braggarts; they always have the best swordsmen, the finest cities, the most outstanding culture; and once you fall into their hands, you are always doomed to death or a life of slavery you can never escape them.
Next paragraph       "May I ask you a question?" I inquired.
Next paragraph       "Certainly," said the voice.
Next paragraph       "Are you always only a voice?"
Next paragraph       A hand, I suppose it was his right hand, seized my arm and squeezed it with powerful, though invisible, fingers; and whatever it was that walked beside me chuckled. "Does that feel like only a voice?" it asked.
Next paragraph       "A stentorian voice," I said. "You seem to have the physical attributes of a flesh and blood man; have you a name?"
Next paragraph       "Most assuredly; it is Kandus; and yours?" he asked politely.
Next paragraph       " Dotar Sojat," I told him, falling back upon my well-worn pseudonym.
Next paragraph       We had now successfully crossed the bog, or whatever it was; and I removed my hand from Kandus's arm. Immediately I was wholly visible again, but Kandus remained only a voice. Again I walked alone, I and a rope sticking out in front of me and apparently defying the law of gravity. Even the fact that I surmised that the other end of it was fastened to a voice did not serve to make it seem right; it was a most indecent way for a rope to behave.
Next paragraph       "' Dotar Sojat,'" repeated Kandus; "it sounds more like a green man's name."
Next paragraph       "You are familiar with the green men?" I asked.
Next paragraph       "Oh, yes; there is a horde which occasionally frequents the dead sea bottoms beyond the forest; but they have learned to give us a wide berth. Notwithstanding their great size and strength, we have a distinct advantage over them. As a matter of fact, I believe that they are very much afraid of us."
Next paragraph       "I can well imagine so; it is not easy to fight voices; there is nothing one may get one's sword into."
Next paragraph       Kandus laughed. "I suppose you would like to get your sword into me," he said.
Next paragraph       "Absolutely not," I said; "you have been very decent to me, but I don't like that voice which calls itself Pnoxus. I wouldn't mind crossing swords with it."
Next paragraph       "Not so loud," cautioned Kandus. "You must remember that he is the jeddak's son. We all have to be very nice to Pnoxus no matter what we may privately think of him."
Next paragraph       I judged from that that Pnoxus was not popular. It is really amazing how quickly one may judge a person by his voice; this had never been so forcibly impressed upon me before. Now, I had disliked the Pnoxus voice from the first, even when it was soft and oily, perhaps because of that; but I had liked the voice named Kandus it was the voice of a man's man, open and without guile; a good voice.
Next paragraph       "Where are you from, Dotar Sojat?" asked, Kandus.
Next paragraph       "From Virginia," I said.
Next paragraph       "That is a city of which I have never heard. In what country is it?"
Next paragraph       "It is in the United States of America," I replied, "but you never heard of that either."
Next paragraph       "No," he admitted; "that must be a far country."
Next paragraph       "It is a far country," I assured him, "some forty-three million miles from here."
Next paragraph       "You can talk as tall as you jump," he said. "I don't mind your joking with me," he added, "but I wouldn't get funny with Pnoxus, nor with Ptantus, the jeddak, if I were you; neither one of them has a sense of humor."
Next paragraph       "But I was not joking," I insisted. "You have seen Jasoom in the heavens at night?"
Next paragraph       "Of course," he replied.
Next paragraph       "Well, that is the world I come from; it is called Earth there, and Barsoom is known as Mars."
        "You look and talk like an honorable man," said Kandus; "and, while I don't understand, I am inclined to believe; however, you'd better pick out some place on Barsoom as your home when anyone else in Invak questions you; and you may soon be questioned here we are at the gates of the city now."
         
navigation