Ero Shan and I dropped to the ground, and I helped Duare down. “Why did you shoot us down?” I demanded.
“Perhaps Danlot the lotokor will tell you,” replied the officer, “I am taking you to him.”
They herded us into the belly of the strange craft from which they had come. There must have been between two and three hundred men aboard this three hundred foot neolantar, as I later learned they called it. On this lower deck were the sleeping quarters, galley and mess rooms, as well as room for the storage of provisions and ammunition. On the next deck were batteries of guns that fired through ports on both sides and at the blunt and rounded bow and stern. The upper deck to which we were finally taken was also heavily armed, having guns in revolving turrets forward and aft, lighter guns on top of the turrets, and batteries forward and aft, over which the turret guns could fire. The superstructure rose from the center of this upper deck. The upper deck of the superstructure was what, I suppose, one might call the bridge, while below that were the cabins of the of fixers.
All these ships are called lantars, which is a contraction of the two words “lap” and “notar,” lap meaning land and notar meaning ship. The big dreadnought is called a tonglantar, or big land ship; the cruiser a kolander, or fast land ship; the destroyer a neolantar, or small land ship. I call them superdreadnaughts, cruisers and destroyers because these are what they most resemble in our navies on Earth.
We were taken to one of the super-dreadnaughts, which proved to be the flagship of the fleet. This craft was simply tremendous, being seven hundred and fifty feet long with a hundred and sixteen foot beam. The upper deck was thirty feet above the ground and the superstructure rose thirty feet above that. It was dressed with ensigns, banners, and pennons; but otherwise it was a very grim and efficient-looking fighting machine. Forward, on the upper deck, was a group of officers; and to these we were escorted.
Danlot, the lotokor who commanded the fleet, was a hard-bitten, stern-looking man. “Who are you, and what were you doing coming over the fleet of Falsa in that thing?” he demanded. He was scrutinizing us all most intently and suspiciously as he spoke.
“We have been lost for many months,” I said, “and we were trying to find our way home.”
“Where is that?” he asked.
“Korva,” I replied.
“Never heard of it,” said Danlot. “Where is it?”
“I am not quite sure myself,” I replied; “but it is somewhere south of here, on the southern coast of Anlap.”
“This is Anlap,” he said; “but the sea is to the east, and there is no Korva there. To the south are mountains that cannot be crossed. What is that thing you were flying through the air in; and what makes it stay up?”
“It is an anotar,” I said; and then I explained the principle of it to him briefly.
“Who built it?” he asked.
“Where have you just flown from?”
“From a city called Voo-ad, north of the mountains,” I replied.
“Never heard of it,” said Danlot. “You have been lying to me and you are a poor liar. You say you are coming from a place that no one ever heard of and going to a place that no one ever heard of. Do you expect me to believe that? I’ll tell you what you are—you are Pangan spies, all of you.” At that I laughed. “What are you laughing at?” he demanded.
“Because your statement is absolutely ridiculous on the face of it,” I replied. “If we had been spies, we would never have come down to be shot at.”
“The Pangans are all fools,” snapped Danlot.
“I might agree with you that I am a fool,” I said, “but I am no Pangan. I never even heard of a Pangan before. I had no idea what country I am in now.”
“I still say that you are spies,” he insisted; “and as such you will be destroyed.”
“My mate,” I said, indicating Duare, “was formerly the janjong of Vepaja; and my friend Ero Shan is a soldier-biologist of Havatoo; and I am Carson of Venus, a tanjong of Korva. If you are civilized people, you will treat us as befits our rank.”
“I have heard of Havatoo,” said Danlot. “It lies over three thousand miles east of here, across the ocean. Many years ago a ship was wrecked on the Falsa coast. It was a ship from a land called Thora; and on board it was a man from Havatoo, who was a prisoner of the Thorists. These Thorists were a bad lot and we killed them all, but the man from Havatoo was a very learned man. He still lives with us in Onar. Perhaps I shall let you live until we return to Onar.”
“What was the name of this man from Havatoo?” asked Ero Shan.
“Korgan Kantum Ambat,” replied Danlot.
“I knew him well,” said Ero Shan. “He disappeared mysteriously many years ago. He was a very learned man; a soldier-physicist.”
“He told me that he fell off the quay into the river one night,” said Danlot, “was swept over the falls below the city and miraculously escaped with his life. He managed to climb onto a floating log below the falls, and was carried down to the ocean, where he was captured by the Thorist ship. As there was no way in which he could return to Havatoo, he has remained here.”
After this Danlot’s attitude toward us softened. He told me that they were on their way to the Pangan city of Hor. He didn’t like the idea of taking us into battle with him; he said we would be in the way, especially Duare.
“If I could spare a ship,” he said, “I would send you back to Onar. There are absolutely no quarters for women on these lantars.”
“I can double up with my klookor,” said the officer who had brought us, “and the woman may have my cabin.” A klookor is a lieutenant.
“Very good; Vantor,” said Danlot; “you may take the woman back with you.”
I did not like that and I said so, but Vantor said there was no room for me aboard his ship and Danlot cut me short peremptorily, reminding me that we were prisoners. I saw the shadow of a sarcastic smile curl Vantor’s lips as he led Duare away, and I was filled with foreboding as I saw her leave the flagship and enter the destroyer. Immediately after this the fleet got under way again.
Danlot quartered me with a young sublieutenant, or rokor and Ero Shan with another, with the understanding that we would have to sleep while these men were on duty, and give up the cabins to them when they returned to their quarters. Otherwise we had the run of the ship; and I was rather surprised at that, but it convinced me that Danlot no longer felt that we were Pangan spies.
About an hour after we got under way I saw something dead ahead coming across the plain toward us at a terrific rate of speed, and when it got closer I saw that it was a diminutive lantar. It came alongside the flagship, which was still moving forward and did not diminish its speed, and an officer came aboard from it and went immediately to Danlot; and almost immediately thereafter the flags and pennons on all the ships were struck, with the exception of the ensign and an additional flag was raised below the ensign on the staff which topped the superstructure. It was a red flag, with crossed swords in black—the battle flag of Falsa. Now the fleet fanned out, with destroyers in three lines far ahead, followed by three lines of cruisers, and the battleships in rear at the apex of the triangle. From the front and either flank little scout ships came racing in and took their positions on either side of the ships to which they were attached.
The men of the flagship were all at their stations. The great fleet moved steadily forward in perfect formation. It was battle formation all right and I knew that a battle must be impending, but I could see no enemy; and as no one was paying any attention to me, I went up to the bridge to get a better view of what was going on and to see if I could locate an enemy. There were officers and signalmen there, sending and receiving messages. There were four t-ray guns mounted on the bridge, each with its complement of three gunners; so that the bridge, while large, was pretty well crowded, and certainly no place for a sightseer, and I was surprised that they permitted me to remain; but I later learned that it was on Danlot’s orders that I was given free run of the ship, on the theory that if I were a spy, I would eventually convict myself by some overt act.
“Have you ever been in a battle between lantar fleets?” one of the officers asked me.
“No,” I replied; “I never saw a lantar until today.”
“If I were you, then, I’d go below,” he said. “This is the most dangerous place on the ship. In all probability more than half of us will be killed before the battle is over.”
As he ceased speaking I heard a whistling sound that rose to a long drawn out shriek and ended in a terrific detonation, as a bomb exploded a couple of hundred yars ahead of the flagship.
Instantly the big guns of the battleship spoke in unison.
The battle was on.