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In The Atmosphere Factory







From: A Princess Of Mars

For two days I waited there for Kantos Kan, but as he did not come I
started off on foot in a northwesterly direction toward a point where
he had told me lay the nearest waterway. My only food consisted of
vegetable milk from the plants which gave so bounteously of this
priceless fluid.

Through two long weeks I wandered, stumbling through the nights guided
only by the stars and hiding during the days behind some protruding
rock or among the occasional hills I traversed. Several times I was
attacked by wild beasts; strange, uncouth monstrosities that leaped
upon me in the dark, so that I had ever to grasp my long-sword in my
hand that I might be ready for them. Usually my strange, newly
acquired telepathic power warned me in ample time, but once I was down
with vicious fangs at my jugular and a hairy face pressed close to mine
before I knew that I was even threatened.

What manner of thing was upon me I did not know, but that it was large
and heavy and many-legged I could feel. My hands were at its throat
before the fangs had a chance to bury themselves in my neck, and slowly
I forced the hairy face from me and closed my fingers, vise-like, upon
its windpipe.

Without sound we lay there, the beast exerting every effort to reach me
with those awful fangs, and I straining to maintain my grip and choke
the life from it as I kept it from my throat. Slowly my arms gave to
the unequal struggle, and inch by inch the burning eyes and gleaming
tusks of my antagonist crept toward me, until, as the hairy face
touched mine again, I realized that all was over. And then a living
mass of destruction sprang from the surrounding darkness full upon the
creature that held me pinioned to the ground. The two rolled growling
upon the moss, tearing and rending one another in a frightful manner,
but it was soon over and my preserver stood with lowered head above the
throat of the dead thing which would have killed me.

The nearer moon, hurtling suddenly above the horizon and lighting up
the Barsoomian scene, showed me that my preserver was Woola, but from
whence he had come, or how found me, I was at a loss to know. That I
was glad of his companionship it is needless to say, but my pleasure at
seeing him was tempered by anxiety as to the reason of his leaving
Dejah Thoris. Only her death I felt sure, could account for his
absence from her, so faithful I knew him to be to my commands.

By the light of the now brilliant moons I saw that he was but a shadow
of his former self, and as he turned from my caress and commenced
greedily to devour the dead carcass at my feet I realized that the poor
fellow was more than half starved. I, myself, was in but little better
plight but I could not bring myself to eat the uncooked flesh and I had
no means of making a fire. When Woola had finished his meal I again
took up my weary and seemingly endless wandering in quest of the
elusive waterway.

At daybreak of the fifteenth day of my search I was overjoyed to see
the high trees that denoted the object of my search. About noon I
dragged myself wearily to the portals of a huge building which covered
perhaps four square miles and towered two hundred feet in the air. It
showed no aperture in the mighty walls other than the tiny door at
which I sank exhausted, nor was there any sign of life about it.

I could find no bell or other method of making my presence known to the
inmates of the place, unless a small round role in the wall near the
door was for that purpose. It was of about the bigness of a lead
pencil and thinking that it might be in the nature of a speaking tube I
put my mouth to it and was about to call into it when a voice issued
from it asking me whom I might be, where from, and the nature of my
errand.

I explained that I had escaped from the Warhoons and was dying of
starvation and exhaustion.

"You wear the metal of a green warrior and are followed by a calot, yet
you are of the figure of a red man. In color you are neither green nor
red. In the name of the ninth day, what manner of creature are you?"

"I am a friend of the red men of Barsoom and I am starving. In the
name of humanity open to us," I replied.

Presently the door commenced to recede before me until it had sunk into
the wall fifty feet, then it stopped and slid easily to the left,
exposing a short, narrow corridor of concrete, at the further end of
which was another door, similar in every respect to the one I had just
passed. No one was in sight, yet immediately we passed the first door
it slid gently into place behind us and receded rapidly to its original
position in the front wall of the building. As the door had slipped
aside I had noted its great thickness, fully twenty feet, and as it
reached its place once more after closing behind us, great cylinders of
steel had dropped from the ceiling behind it and fitted their lower
ends into apertures countersunk in the floor.

A second and third door receded before me and slipped to one side as
the first, before I reached a large inner chamber where I found food
and drink set out upon a great stone table. A voice directed me to
satisfy my hunger and to feed my calot, and while I was thus engaged my
invisible host put me through a severe and searching cross-examination.

"Your statements are most remarkable," said the voice, on concluding
its questioning, "but you are evidently speaking the truth, and it is
equally evident that you are not of Barsoom. I can tell that by the
conformation of your brain and the strange location of your internal
organs and the shape and size of your heart."

"Can you see through me?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, I can see all but your thoughts, and were you a Barsoomian I
could read those."

Then a door opened at the far side of the chamber and a strange, dried
up, little mummy of a man came toward me. He wore but a single article
of clothing or adornment, a small collar of gold from which depended
upon his chest a great ornament as large as a dinner plate set solid
with huge diamonds, except for the exact center which was occupied by a
strange stone, an inch in diameter, that scintillated nine different
and distinct rays; the seven colors of our earthly prism and two
beautiful rays which, to me, were new and nameless. I cannot describe
them any more than you could describe red to a blind man. I only know
that they were beautiful in the extreme.

The old man sat and talked with me for hours, and the strangest part of
our intercourse was that I could read his every thought while he could
not fathom an iota from my mind unless I spoke.



I did not apprise him of my ability to sense his mental operations, and
thus I learned a great deal which proved of immense value to me later
and which I would never have known had he suspected my strange power,
for the Martians have such perfect control of their mental machinery
that they are able to direct their thoughts with absolute precision.

The building in which I found myself contained the machinery which
produces that artificial atmosphere which sustains life on Mars. The
secret of the entire process hinges on the use of the ninth ray, one of
the beautiful scintillations which I had noted emanating from the great
stone in my host's diadem.

This ray is separated from the other rays of the sun by means of finely
adjusted instruments placed upon the roof of the huge building,
three-quarters of which is used for reservoirs in which the ninth ray
is stored. This product is then treated electrically, or rather
certain proportions of refined electric vibrations are incorporated
with it, and the result is then pumped to the five principal air
centers of the planet where, as it is released, contact with the ether
of space transforms it into atmosphere.

There is always sufficient reserve of the ninth ray stored in the great
building to maintain the present Martian atmosphere for a thousand
years, and the only fear, as my new friend told me, was that some
accident might befall the pumping apparatus.

He led me to an inner chamber where I beheld a battery of twenty radium
pumps any one of which was equal to the task of furnishing all Mars
with the atmosphere compound. For eight hundred years, he told me, he
had watched these pumps which are used alternately a day each at a
stretch, or a little over twenty-four and one-half Earth hours. He has
one assistant who divides the watch with him. Half a Martian year,
about three hundred and forty-four of our days, each of these men spend
alone in this huge, isolated plant.

Every red Martian is taught during earliest childhood the principles of
the manufacture of atmosphere, but only two at one time ever hold the
secret of ingress to the great building, which, built as it is with
walls a hundred and fifty feet thick, is absolutely unassailable, even
the roof being guarded from assault by air craft by a glass covering
five feet thick.

The only fear they entertain of attack is from the green Martians or
some demented red man, as all Barsoomians realize that the very
existence of every form of life of Mars is dependent upon the
uninterrupted working of this plant.

One curious fact I discovered as I watched his thoughts was that the
outer doors are manipulated by telepathic means. The locks are so
finely adjusted that the doors are released by the action of a certain
combination of thought waves. To experiment with my new-found toy I
thought to surprise him into revealing this combination and so I asked
him in a casual manner how he had managed to unlock the massive doors
for me from the inner chambers of the building. As quick as a flash
there leaped to his mind nine Martian sounds, but as quickly faded as
he answered that this was a secret he must not divulge.

From then on his manner toward me changed as though he feared that he
had been surprised into divulging his great secret, and I read
suspicion and fear in his looks and thoughts, though his words were
still fair.

Before I retired for the night he promised to give me a letter to a
nearby agricultural officer who would help me on my way to Zodanga,
which he said, was the nearest Martian city.

"But be sure that you do not let them know you are bound for Helium as
they are at war with that country. My assistant and I are of no
country, we belong to all Barsoom and this talisman which we wear
protects us in all lands, even among the green men--though we do not
trust ourselves to their hands if we can avoid it," he added.

"And so good-night, my friend," he continued, "may you have a long and
restful sleep--yes, a long sleep."

And though he smiled pleasantly I saw in his thoughts the wish that he
had never admitted me, and then a picture of him standing over me in
the night, and the swift thrust of a long dagger and the half formed
words, "I am sorry, but it is for the best good of Barsoom."

As he closed the door of my chamber behind him his thoughts were cut
off from me as was the sight of him, which seemed strange to me in my
little knowledge of thought transference.

What was I to do? How could I escape through these mighty walls?
Easily could I kill him now that I was warned, but once he was dead I
could no more escape, and with the stopping of the machinery of the
great plant I should die with all the other inhabitants of the
planet--all, even Dejah Thoris were she not already dead. For the
others I did not give the snap of my finger, but the thought of Dejah
Thoris drove from my mind all desire to kill my mistaken host.

Cautiously I opened the door of my apartment and, followed by Woola,
sought the inner of the great doors. A wild scheme had come to me; I
would attempt to force the great locks by the nine thought waves I had
read in my host's mind.

Creeping stealthily through corridor after corridor and down winding
runways which turned hither and thither I finally reached the great
hall in which I had broken my long fast that morning. Nowhere had I
seen my host, nor did I know where he kept himself by night.

I was on the point of stepping boldly out into the room when a slight
noise behind me warned me back into the shadows of a recess in the
corridor. Dragging Woola after me I crouched low in the darkness.

Presently the old man passed close by me, and as he entered the dimly
lighted chamber which I had been about to pass through I saw that he
held a long thin dagger in his hand and that he was sharpening it upon
a stone. In his mind was the decision to inspect the radium pumps,
which would take about thirty minutes, and then return to my bed
chamber and finish me.

As he passed through the great hall and disappeared down the runway
which led to the pump-room, I stole stealthily from my hiding place and
crossed to the great door, the inner of the three which stood between
me and liberty.

Concentrating my mind upon the massive lock I hurled the nine thought
waves against it. In breathless expectancy I waited, when finally the
great door moved softly toward me and slid quietly to one side. One
after the other the remaining mighty portals opened at my command and
Woola and I stepped forth into the darkness, free, but little better
off than we had been before, other than that we had full stomachs.

Hastening away from the shadows of the formidable pile I made for the
first crossroad, intending to strike the central turnpike as quickly as
possible. This I reached about morning and entering the first
enclosure I came to I searched for some evidences of a habitation.

There were low rambling buildings of concrete barred with heavy
impassable doors, and no amount of hammering and hallooing brought any
response. Weary and exhausted from sleeplessness I threw myself upon
the ground commanding Woola to stand guard.

Some time later I was awakened by his frightful growlings and opened my
eyes to see three red Martians standing a short distance from us and
covering me with their rifles.

"I am unarmed and no enemy," I hastened to explain. "I have been a
prisoner among the green men and am on my way to Zodanga. All I ask is
food and rest for myself and my calot and the proper directions for
reaching my destination."

They lowered their rifles and advanced pleasantly toward me placing
their right hands upon my left shoulder, after the manner of their
custom of salute, and asking me many questions about myself and my
wanderings. They then took me to the house of one of them which was
only a short distance away.

The buildings I had been hammering at in the early morning were
occupied only by stock and farm produce, the house proper standing
among a grove of enormous trees, and, like all red-Martian homes, had
been raised at night some forty or fifty feet from the ground on a
large round metal shaft which slid up or down within a sleeve sunk in
the ground, and was operated by a tiny radium engine in the entrance
hall of the building. Instead of bothering with bolts and bars for
their dwellings, the red Martians simply run them up out of harm's way
during the night. They also have private means for lowering or raising
them from the ground without if they wish to go away and leave them.

These brothers, with their wives and children, occupied three similar
houses on this farm. They did no work themselves, being government
officers in charge. The labor was performed by convicts, prisoners of
war, delinquent debtors and confirmed bachelors who were too poor to
pay the high celibate tax which all red-Martian governments impose.

They were the personification of cordiality and hospitality and I spent
several days with them, resting and recuperating from my long and
arduous experiences.

When they had heard my story--I omitted all reference to Dejah Thoris
and the old man of the atmosphere plant--they advised me to color my
body to more nearly resemble their own race and then attempt to find
employment in Zodanga, either in the army or the navy.

"The chances are small that your tale will be believed until after you
have proven your trustworthiness and won friends among the higher
nobles of the court. This you can most easily do through military
service, as we are a warlike people on Barsoom," explained one of them,
"and save our richest favors for the fighting man."

When I was ready to depart they furnished me with a small domestic bull
thoat, such as is used for saddle purposes by all red Martians. The
animal is about the size of a horse and quite gentle, but in color and
shape an exact replica of his huge and fierce cousin of the wilds.

The brothers had supplied me with a reddish oil with which I anointed
my entire body and one of them cut my hair, which had grown quite long,
in the prevailing fashion of the time, square at the back and banged in
front, so that I could have passed anywhere upon Barsoom as a
full-fledged red Martian. My metal and ornaments were also renewed in
the style of a Zodangan gentleman, attached to the house of Ptor, which
was the family name of my benefactors.

They filled a little sack at my side with Zodangan money. The medium
of exchange upon Mars is not dissimilar from our own except that the
coins are oval. Paper money is issued by individuals as they require
it and redeemed twice yearly. If a man issues more than he can redeem,
the government pays his creditors in full and the debtor works out the
amount upon the farms or in mines, which are all owned by the
government. This suits everybody except the debtor as it has been a
difficult thing to obtain sufficient voluntary labor to work the great
isolated farm lands of Mars, stretching as they do like narrow ribbons
from pole to pole, through wild stretches peopled by wild animals and
wilder men.

When I mentioned my inability to repay them for their kindness to me
they assured me that I would have ample opportunity if I lived long
upon Barsoom, and bidding me farewell they watched me until I was out
of sight upon the broad white turnpike.





Next: An Air Scout For Zodanga

Previous: Battling In The Arena



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