The Swordsman of Mars


Otis Adelbert Kline

HARRY THORNE opened his eyes and gazed about him with a startled expression. This was not the tawdry hotel bedroom in which he had gone to sleep; it was a small room with bare, concrete walls, a door of hardwood planking studded with bolts, and a barred window. The only articles of furniture were the cot on which he was lying, a chair, and a small table.

So the sleeping pills didn’t finish me off, he thought. Now I’m in jail for attempted suicide!

Thorne sat up, then rose unsteadily to his feet and staggered to the window. Supporting himself by gripping the thick iron bars, he peered out. It was broad daylight and the sun was high in the heavens. Below him stretched a deep valley, through which a narrow stream meandered. And as far as he could see in all directions there were mountains, though the highest peaks were all below the level of his own eyes.

He turned from the window at the sound of a key grating in a lock. Then the heavy door swung inward, and a large man entered the cell, bearing a tray of food and a steaming pot of coffee. Behind the man was a still larger figure, whose very presence radiated authority. His forehead was high and bulged outward over shaggy eyebrows that met above his aquiline nose. He wore a pointed, closely cropped Vandyke, black with a slight sprinkling of gray, and was dressed in faultlessly tailored evening clothes.

Thorne got to his feet as his singular visitor closed the door behind him. Then, in a booming bass, the man said, “At last, Mr. Thorne, I have caught up with you. I am Dr. Morgan.” He smiled. “And, I might add, not a moment too soon. You gave us quite a time—Boyd and I managed to get you out of that hotel room and down to the street, passing you off as drunk. Don’t you remember a knocking at the door? You weren’t quite out when we came in.”

Thorne thought for a moment, then nodded. It seemed that there had been a pounding somewhere. “How did you get in? I thought I locked the door.”

“You did, but I had skeleton keys with me, just in case. We took you to my apartment, treated you, and brought you out here.” Morgan nodded to Boyd, who left the room, then waved his hand invitingly toward the tray. “I ordered breakfast served in your room. I especially urge you to try the coffee. It will counteract the effect of the sedatives I was compelled to use in order to save your life and bring you here.”

“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to save something I don’t want,” Thorne said. “May I ask why you are interfering in my affairs?”

“I need you,” Morgan replied simply. “And I can offer you adventure such as only one other man of Earth has known—possibly glory, possibly death. But if death, not the mean sort you were seeking.”

Harry Thorne frowned. “You referred to a man of Earth as if there were men not of Earth. Are you suggesting a trip to Mars?”

Dr. Morgan laughed. “Splendid, Mr. Thorne. But suppose you tackle this breakfast. It will put you in a better frame of mind for what I am going to tell you. I shall not lock the door as I leave. When you have finished, join me in the drawing room—at the end of the corridor to your right.” He paused in the doorway. “You mentioned a trip to Mars, Mr. Thorne. Forgive me if I keep you in suspense for a time, but—although it is not exactly what you think those words mean—that is what I am going to propose.”

The Swordsman of Mars    |     Chapter I

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