I KNEW that the sound-detectors were already giving warning of the approach of a ship, and of a Kapar ship, too; for our ships are equipped with a secret device which permits the detectors to recognize them. The signal that it gives can be changed at will, and is changed every day, so that it really amounts to a countersign. Watchers must be on the alert for even a single ship, but I was positive that they would be looking up in the air; so I hugged the ground, flying at an elevation of little more than twenty feet.
Before we reached the mountains which surround Orvis, I saw a squadron of pursuit planes come over the summit.
“They are looking for us,” I said to Bantor Han, who was in the after cockpit, “and I’m going right up where they can see us.”
“You’ll come down in a hurry,” said Bantor Han.
“Now, listen,” I said; “as soon as we get where you can distinguish the gunners and pilots and see that their uniforms are blue, you stand up and wave something, for if you can see the color of their uniforms, they can see the color of yours; and I don’t believe they will shoot us down then.”
“That’s where you’re mistaken,” said Bantor Han; “lots of Kapars have tried to enter Orvis in uniforms taken from our dead pilots.”
“Don’t forget to stand up and wave,” I said.
We were getting close now, and it was a tense moment. I could plainly see the blue uniforms of the gunners and the pilots; and they could certainly see Bantor Han’s and mine, and with Bantor Han waving to them they must realize that here was something unusual.
Presently the Squadron Commander ordered his ships to take position above us; and then he commenced to circle us, coming closer and closer. He came so close at last that our wings almost touched.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Bantor Han Tangor,” I replied, “in a captured Kapar ship.”
I heard one of his gunners say: “Yes, that’s Bantor Han. I know him well.”
“Land just south of the city,” said the Squadron Commander. “We’ll escort you down; otherwise you’ll be shot down.”
I signaled that I understood, and he said, “Follow me.”
So we dropped down toward Orvis near the apex of a V-formation, and I can tell you I was mighty glad to pile out of that ship with a whole skin.
I told the Squadron Commander about what we had seen the two Kapars doing, and turned the box over to him. Then I went and reported to my own Squadron Commander.
“I never expected to see you again,” he said. “What luck did you have?”
“Twenty-two Kapars and four ships,” I replied.
He looked at me a bit skeptically. “All by yourself?”
“There were three in my crew,” I said. “I lost two of them, and my ship.”
“The balance is still very much in your favor,” he said. “Who else survived?”
“Bantor Han,” I replied.
“A good man,” he said. “Where is he?”
“Waiting outside, sir.”
He summoned Bantor Han. “I understand you had very good luck,” he said.
“Yes sir,” said Bantor Han; “four ships and twenty-two men, though we lost two men and our ship.”
“I shall recommend decorations for both of you,” he said, and dismissed us. “You may take a day off,” he said, “you have earned it; and you, too, Bantor Han.”
I lost no time in setting off to the Harkases. Harkas Yamoda was in the garden, sitting staring at the ground and looking very sad; but when I spoke her name she leaped to her feet and came running toward me, laughing almost hysterically. She seized me by both arms.
“Oh, Tangor,” she cried, “you did not come back, and we were sure that you had been shot down. The last that anyone saw of you, you were fighting three Kapar combat planes alone.”
“Harkas Don,” I asked, “—he came back?”
“Yes; now we shall all be so thankful and so happy—until next time.”
I had dinner with Yamoda and her father and mother, and after dinner Harkas Don came. He was as surprised and delighted as the others to see me.
“I didn’t think you had a chance.” he said. “When a man is gone three days, he is reported dead. You were very fortunate.”
“How did the battle go, Harkas Don?” I asked.
“We thrashed them as usual,” he said. “We have better ships, better pilots, better gunners, better guns, and I think that now we have more ships. I don’t know why they keep on coming over. They sent over two waves of five thousand ships each this time, and we shot down at least five thousand of them. We lost a thousand ships and two thousand men. The others parachuted to safety.”
“I don’t see why they keep it up,” I said. “I shouldn’t think they’d be able to get men to fight when they know they are just going to their death for no good reason.”
“They are afraid of their masters,” replied Harkas Don, “and they have been regimented for so many years that they have no initiative and no individuality. Another reason is that they wish to eat. The leaders live like princes of old; the army officers live exceptionally well; and the soldiers get plenty to eat, such as it is. If they were not fighting men, they would be laborers, which, in Kapara, is the equivalent of being a slave. They get barely enough food to subsist upon and they work from sixteen to eighteen hours a day; yet their lot is infinitely better than that of the subjugated peoples, many of whom have been reduced to canhibalism.”
“Let’s talk of something pleasant,” said Yamoda.
“I think I see something pleasant to talk about, coming,” I said, nodding toward the entrance to the garden where we were sitting. It was Balzo Maro.
She came in with a brilliant smile, which I could see was forced. Harkas Don met her and took both her hands and pressed them, and Yamoda kissed her. I had never seen such demonstrations of affection before, for though those three people loved another, and each knew it, they made no show of that love in front of others.
They evidently saw that I was puzzled, and Balzo Maro said, “My youngest brother died gloriously in the battle;” and after a pause she said. “It is war.” I am not terribly emotional, but a lump came in my throat and tears to my eyes. These brave people! How they have suffered because of the greed for power, the vanity, and the hate of a man who died almost a hundred years ago!
They did not speak of Balzo Maro’s loss again; they never would speak of it again. It is war.
“So you have tomorrow free,” said Harkas Don. “Perhaps you are fortunate.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Tomorrow we raid Kapara with twenty thousand ships,” he said. “It is a reprisal raid.”
“And then they will send over forty thousand ships in reprisal,” said Harkas Yamoda; “and so it goes on forever.”
“I shall not have a free day tomorrow,” I said.
“Why, what do you mean?” asked Yamoda.
“I am going out with my squadron,” I said. “I don’t see why the commander didn’t tell me.”
“Because you have earned a day to yourself,” said Harkas Don.
“Nevertheless, I am going,” I said.