NEXT MORNING the whole village accompanied me down the canon to see me take off for Orvis. Three men went far in advance and when he got down into the canon one of them came running back to meet us. I could see that he was very much excited, and he was motioning to us to be silent.
“There is a Kapar at your ship,” he said, in a whisper.
“Let me go ahead,” I said to the chief. “There will probably be shooting.”
“We should have brought the guns,” he said. “Why did I not think of that?” And he sent three men scurrying back to get them.
I walked down the canon until I came to the other two men who had gone ahead. They were hiding behind bushes and they motioned me to take cover, but I had no time for that; and instead I ran forward, and when I came in sight of the ship a man was just climbing up onto the wing. He was a Kapar all right, and I started firing as I ran toward him. I missed him, and he wheeled about and held both hands above his head in sign of surrender.
I kept him covered as I walked toward him, but as I got nearer I saw that he was unarmed.
“What are you doing there, Kapar?” I demanded.
He came toward me, his hands still above his head.
“For the honor and glory of Unis,” he said. “I am no Kapar.” He removed his gray helmet, revealing a head of blond hair. But I had been told that there were some blond Kapars, and I was not to be taken in by any ruse.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” I said. “If you are a Unisan, you can prove it more convincingly than by showing a head of blond hair. Who are you, and from what city do you come?”
“I am Balzo Jan,” he said, “and I come from the city of Orvis.”
Now Balzo Jan was the brother that Balzo Maro had said was shot down in battle. This might be he, but I was still unconvinced.
“How did you get here?” I demanded.
“I was shot down in battle about two hundred miles from here,” he said. “We made a good landing and some Kapars who saw that we were evidently not killed came down to finish us off. There were four of them and three of us. We got all four of them, but not before my two companions were killed. Knowing that I was somewhere in Epris, and therefore in Kapar-dominated country, I took the uniform of one of the Kapars as a disguise.”
“Why didn’t you take his gun and ammunition, too?”
“Because we had all exhausted all our ammunition,” he replied, “and guns without ammunition are only an extra burden to carry. I had killed the last Kapar with my last bullet.”
“You may be all right,” I said, “but I don’t know. Can you tell me the name of some of your sister’s friends?”
“Certainly,” he said. “Her best friends are Harkas Yamoda and Harkas Don, daughter and son of Harkas Yen.”
“I guess you’re all right,” I said. “There are a couple of blue uniforms in the after cockpit. Get into one of them at once, and then we’ll go to work on the motor.”
“Look,” he cried, pointing beyond me, “some men are coming. They are going to attack us.”
I turned to see my friendly hosts creeping toward us with shafts fitted to their bows.
“It is all right,” I shouted to them, “this is a friend.”
“If he is a friend of yours, then you must be a Kapar,” replied the chief.
“He is no Kapar,” I insisted; and then I turned and shouted to Balzo Jan to get into a blue uniform at once.
“Perhaps you have deceived us,” shouted the chief. “How do we know that you are not a Kapar, after all?”
“Our children are hungry,” screamed a woman farther back up the canon. “Our children are hungry, we are hungry, and here are two Kapars.”
It was commencing to look very serious. The men were creeping closer; they would soon be within bow range. I had put my pistol back into its holster after I had been convinced that Balzo Jan was no impostor, and I did not draw it as I walked forward to meet the chief.
“We are friends,” I said. “You see, I am not afraid of you. Would I have given you the three guns and the ammunition had I been a Kapar? Would I have let that man back there live if I had not known that he was a Unisan?”
The chief shook his head. “That is right,” he said. “You would not have given us the guns and ammunition had you been a Kapar. But how do you know this man is not a Kapar?” he added suspiciously.
“Because he is the brother of a friend of mine,” I explained. “He was shot down behind the Kapar lines and he took the uniform from a Kapar he had killed to use as a disguise, because he knew that he was in Kapar country.”
About this time Balzo Jan crawled out of the after cockpit dressed in the blue suit, boots, and helmet of a Unisan fighting man.
“Does he look like a Kapar?” I asked.
“No,” the chief said. “You must forgive us. My people hate the Kapars, and they are hungry.”
With Balzo Jan’s help I had the engine repaired and we were ready to take off a little after noon; and when we rose into the air the starving villagers stood sad-eyed and mute, watching us fly away toward a land of plenty.
As we rose above the mountains that lay between us and the coast I saw three ships far to our left. They were flying in a southwesterly direction towards Kapara.
“I think they are Kapars,” said Balzo Jan, who was far more familiar with the lines of Polodian ships than I, having spent most of his lifetime looking at them.
Even as we watched, the three ships turned in our direction. Whatever they were, they had sighted us and were coming for us.
If they were Unisans, we had nothing to fear; nor for that matter did we have anything to fear if they were Kapars, for my ship could outfly them by a hundred miles an hour. Had they been as fast as ours, they could have cut us off, for they were. in the right position to do so. We had been making about four hundred miles an hour and now I opened the throttle wide, for I did not purpose taking any chances, as I felt that we wouldn’t have a chance against three Kapars, with three or four guns apiece, while we only had two. I opened the throttle, but nothing happened. The engine didn’t accelerate at all. I told Balzo Jan.
“We shall have to fight, then,” he said, “and I wanted to get home and get a decent meal. I have had practically nothing to eat for three days.”
I knew how Balzo Jan felt, for I had had nothing to eat myself for some time, and anyway I had had enough fighting for a while.
“They are Kapars all right,” said Balzo Jan presently.
There was no doubt about that now; the black of their wings and fuselages was quite apparent, and we were just about going to meet them over the island off the southern tip of Unis. We were going to meet right over the last and largest of the three islands, which is called the Island of Despair, where are sent those confirmed criminals who are not to be destroyed, and those Unisans whose loyalty is suspected, but who cannot be convicted of treason.
I had been fiddling with the engine controls, trying to step up the speed a little, when the first burst of fire whistled about us. The leading ship was coming head-on toward us, firing only from her forward gun, when Balzo Jan sent a stream of explosive projectiles into her. I saw her propeller disappear then, and she started to glide toward the Island of Despair.
“That’s the end of them,” shouted Balzo Jan.
Quite suddenly and unexpectedly my motor took hold again, and we immediately drew away from the other two ships, which Balzo Jan was spraying with gunfire.
We must have been hit fifty times, but the plastic of our fuselage and wings could withstand machine-gun fire, which could injure us only by a lucky hit of propeller or instrument-board. It is the heavier guns of combat planes and bombers that these fast, lightly armed pursuit planes have to fear.
“I hate to run from Kapars,” I shouted back to Balzo Jan. “Shall we stay and have it out with them?”
“We have no right to throw away a ship and two men,” he said, “in a hopeless fight.”
Well, that was that. Balzo Jan knew the rules of the game better than I; so I opened the throttle wide and soon left the remaining Kapars far behind, and shortly after, they turned and resumed their flight toward Kapara.
There are two pilot seats and controls in the front cockpit, as well as the additional controls in the after cockpit. However, two men are seldom seated in the front cockpit, except for training purposes, as there is only one gun there and the Unisan military chiefs don’t believe in wasting man power. However, the seat was there, and I asked Balzo Jan to come up and sit with me.
“If you see any more Kapars,” I said, “you can go back to your gun.”
“Do you know,” he said, after he had crawled up into the forward cockpit and seated himself beside me, “that we have been so busy since you first discovered me climbing into your ship that I haven’t had a chance to ask you who you are. I know a lot of men in the fighting service, but I don’t recall ever having seen you before.”
“My name is Tangor,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, “you’re the man that my sister discovered without any clothes on after a raid several months ago.”
“The same,” I said, “and she is mourning you for dead. I saw her at the Harkases the night before we took off for this last raid.”
“My sister would not mourn,” he said proudly.
“Well, she was mourning inwardly,” I replied, “and sometimes that’s worse for a woman than letting herself go. I should think a good cry now and then would be a relief to the women of Poloda.”
“I guess they used to cry,” he said, “but they don’t any more. If they cried every time they felt like crying, they’d be crying all the time; and they can’t do that, you know, for there is work to do. It is war.”