The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 7. A Repellent Sight
THE cruiser Vanator careened through the tempest That she had not been dashed to the
ground, or twisted by the force of the elements into tangled wreckage, was due entirely to
the caprice of Nature. For all the duration of the storm she rode, a helpless derelict, upon
those storm-tossed waves of wind. But for all the dangers and vicissitudes they
underwent, she and her crew might have borne charmed lives up to within an hour of the
abating of the hurricane. It was then that the catastrophe occurred--a catastrophe indeed
to the crew of the Vanator and the kingdom of Gathol.
The men had been without food or drink since leaving Helium, and they had been hurled
about and buffeted in their lashings until all were worn to exhaustion. There was a brief
lull in the storm during which one of the crew attempted to reach his quarters, after
releasing the lashings which had held him to the precarious safety of the deck. The act in
itself was a direct violation of orders and, in the eyes of the other members of the crew,
the effect, which came with startling suddenness, took the form of a swift and terrible
retribution. Scarce had the man released the safety snaps ere a swift arm of the storm-
monster encircled the ship, rolling it over and over, with the result that the foolhardy
warrior went overboard at the first turn.
Unloosed from their lashing by the constant turning and twisting of the ship and the force
of the wind, the boarding and landing tackle had been trailing beneath the keel, a tangled
mass of cordage and leather. Upon the occasions that the Vanator rolled completely over,
these things would be wrapped around her until another revolution in the opposite
direction, or the wind itself, carried them once again clear of the deck to trail, whipping
in the storm, beneath the hurtling ship.
Into this fell the body of the warrior, and as a drowning man clutches at a straw so the
fellow clutched at the tangled cordage that caught him and arrested his fall. With the
strength of desperation he clung to the cordage, seeking frantically to entangle his legs
and body in it. With each jerk of the ship his hand holds were all but torn loose, and
though he knew that eventually they would be and that he must be dashed to the ground
beneath, yet he fought with the madness that is born of hopelessness for the pitiful second
which but prolonged his agony.
It was upon this sight then that Gahan of Gathol looked, over the edge of the careening
deck of the Vanator, as he sought to learn the fate of his warrior. Lashed to the gunwale
close at hand a single landing leather that had not fouled the tangled mass beneath
whipped free from the ship's side, the hook snapping at its outer end. The Jed of Gathol
grasped the situation in a single glance. Below him one of his people looked into the eyes
of Death. To the jed's hand lay the means for succor.
There was no instant's hesitation. Casting off his deck lashings, he seized the landing
leather and slipped over the ship's side. Swinging like a bob upon a mad pendulum he
swung far out and back again, turning and twisting three thousand feet above the surface