The Swordsman of Mars
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by Otis Adelbert Kline
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Escape from the humdrum Earth with The Swordsman of Mars as Harry Thorne, American, pits himself against the best duellists and the most devilish monsters of the Red Planet in this action-packed book of adventure, romance, and derring-do on a fantastic world.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was, without a doubt, the most famous author of fantasy-adventure. Though his imitators were legion, only one man was able to compete successfully with Burroughs. He was Otis Adelbert Kline.
Though they wrote for the same publishers, and were filmed by the same movie studios, Kline never meant to compete with Burroughs. He admired the author, and it was his enthusiasm for that type of story that inspired him to create his own universe of planets in peril, peopled by swashbuckling planeteers and stimulating sirens.
En garde! You have in hand The Swordsman of Mars. This is not the science-fiction of computers and analogs. There will be no roar of rockets. This is for the reader who wants a free-fall flight in fantastic adventure with star-flung heroes fighting furiously for honor on worlds without it, and beautiful maidens who know there is a fate worse than death! This is for the reader who likes his thrills unique, and his fiction spellbinding from first page to last.
About Vintage Science Fiction Pulps:
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America--a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and the reading public would consume them. In 1939 a new publishing company--Pocket Books--stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. Unlike hardback books, these pulp paperbacks were available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them. The popular pulp genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II--mysteries, "sleaze", thrillers, and "hardboiled detective" stories were all the rage.
In the early 1950s new pulp fiction subgenres emerged--science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and "sleaze", for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, vintage pulps with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the pulp cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
We are excited to make these wonderful pulp fiction stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers, as a new revolution--the ebook revolution--is in full swing. We hope you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at a period in American history when dames were dangerous, tough-guys were deadly, dolls were delicious and spacemen were downright daring!
eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [218 KB]
Reading time: 138-193 min.
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."
* * * *
"You have heard of telepathy, of course--in fact, Mr. Thorne, you experimented with it at one time."
"How did you know that, doctor?"
"You wrote a letter about your experiments to the editor of a popular magazine. It was published under your own name two months ago."
Thorne rubbed his brow. "That's right, I did--been so busy I forgot all about it. But my results were negative."
Dr. Morgan nodded. "So were mine, for nearly twenty years. It was a hobby when I was in practice, but since my retirement, I've devoted my full time to it. Let me brief you on the basics.
"Telepathy, the communication of thoughts or ideas from one mind to another without the use of any physical medium whatever, is not influenced or hampered by either time or space. That is fundamental, but I had to amend it. I failed to achieve anything until I succeeded in building a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves. And even then I would have failed had this machine not caught the waves projected by another machine which another man had built to amplify and project them."
"You mean you can read minds by radio, as it were?" Thorne asked.
"To a very limited extent. If you had a projector in this room, and I had my receiver here, I could pick up any thoughts you sent me--but only those you consciously projected. I could not read your mind in the sense of picking up anything you did not want me to know."
Thorne took a cigarette from the box on the table to his right and lit it. "Interesting," he admitted, "but what has this to do with Mars?"
"I made only one amendment to that basic theory, Mr. Thorne. The rest of it holds true: the communication of thoughts or-ideas from one mind to another is not influenced or hampered by time or space. The man who built the thought-projector is on Mars."
"Men on Mars--you mean Martians, or human beings like us? Excuse me, doctor, but that is spreading it a bit thick. I'm well enough up on present-day studies of the planets..."
"... to know that the existence of a human civilization on Mars today is hardly credible," Morgan broke in. "You are quite right. None such exists."
"Space or time. I was incredulous, too, when I got in touch with someone who identified himself as a human being, one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. And I might add that Lal Vak found the idea of a human civilization on Earth a bit thick, too. But the explanation, fantastic as it may seem, is quite simple: Lal Vak is speaking to me from the Mars of some millions of years ago, when a human civilization did exist there."
Morgan raised his hand. "Don't interrupt now--hear me out. From that simple exchange of visual and auditory impressions which marked our first communications, we progressed until each one had learned the language of the other to a degree that enabled us to exchange abstract as well as concrete ideas.
"It was Lal Vak who suggested that if we could find a man on Earth and one on Mars whose bodies were similar enough to be doubles, their brain patterns might also be similar enough so that consciousness could be transferred between them. Thus, Earth of the 20th Century could be viewed through Martian eyes, while the (to us) ancient Mars culture--we cannot yet place it in time relative to Earth--could be seen at first hand by a man from Earth. First Lal Vak projected to me many thought images of Martians willing to make this exchange--so clearly that I was able to draw detailed pictures of them. But that was not enough. I could spend the rest of my life without finding any counterparts of these Martians here. The second thing Lal Vak did was to tell me how to make what we call a mind-compass, and gave me the brain-patterns of his volunteers. I followed his directions and fed the first brain-pattern into the mind-compass."
Thorne leaned forward intently. "What happened?"
"Nothing. The needle rotated aimlessly. This meant that either there was no physical counterpart of this Martian now alive on earth, or any such double did not have a similar brain-pattern. I fed in the second and third patterns with the same result. But with the fourth pattern, the needle swung directly to a given point and remained there." Morgan opened a drawer in the little table and took out some pencil sketches. "Recognize this man?" he asked, handing a sketch to Thorne.
"Your assistant--Boyd, you called him?"
"Correct. Under the influence of Lal Vak's thoughts, I drew a picture of Frank Boyd. To shorten the story, I found him in an Alaskan mining camp. He was interested in the venture I proposed--he is now on Mars."
"But--I just saw him..."
"You saw the body of Frank Boyd, which is now inhabited by Sel Han, a Martian. On Mars, Sel Han's body is occupied by Frank Boyd, an Earthman. But I made one terrible mistake."
"What was that?"
"In my eagerness to find a volunteer, I did not investigate Frank Boyd. Sel Han has cooperated with Lal Vak and me, but once on Mars, Frank Boyd broke contact--and without his cooperation, it could not be maintained. I have learned through Lal Vak that Boyd has allied himself with a group of Martians who are out to seize power and set up an empire over the entire planet. Mars is presently in a state roughly analogous to our middle ages, socially, though in some branches of science they are in advance of us. But theirs is not a machine civilization, and an adventurer who is also a fighting man--or adept at intrigue--can go far there."
Harry Thorne grinned. "Let me see if I can guess the rest of the story. You've loosed an unsavory character on Mars and feel you've wronged your friend, Lal Vak, so you want to undo the damage if you can. You fed more brain-patterns into the object compass, and eventually the brain-pattern of..."
"...This man," Morgan agreed, passing him another sketch. Thorne took it and saw a drawing of himself in minute detail.
"But that was not enough," he said. "You didn't want to repeat your error, so you spent some time investigating me first."
Dr. Morgan smiled. "And the results were most satisfactory--to me. You had a good war record in Korea, you've been on hunting expeditions to Africa, and you've been in business. Your recent difficulties, which resulted in the loss of your fiancee and your business--left you a pauper, in fact--came out of your refusal to go along with your partner's dubious (though legal) manipulations. He wiped you out and took your girl, too... In short, you are a man who might well do what Lal Vak and I feared impossible."
Harry Thorne nodded. "Assuming that you can send me on this strange mission, what would you want me to do?"
"Only two things. Remain in touch with me, through Lal Vak, as much as possible, and, if you can, kill Frank Boyd--the Martian Sel Han. Otherwise, your life on Mars will be your own, to live as you choose, or as the Martians choose to let you live. If you are able to rise above your environment--as I think you will be--you will find opportunities there you could never hope for here. You will find a world of romance and adventure undreamed of outside of fiction. And if you are not equally quick with sword and wits, you will find death. Knowing you to be an expert fencer--yes, I found out that you had tried to get a job with a fencing instructor and was turned down because you beat him, too easily--I don't think I need worry about you on the first count."
"The prospect appeals to me," Thorne admitted. "But I refuse to murder a man I have never seen."
"If you oppose Sel Han's designs, I assure you that you will have to kill him or be killed. There's no question of murder--it will be simple and justifiable self-defense... Then--you'll go?"
"I'll at least make the attempt, with your assistance. How does this personality-transfer take place?"
"I can only describe it as a sort of phasing of similar vibrations, represented by your brain-pattern and that of the Martian volunteer. But first I must put you under hypnosis. Then I will contact Lal Vak, and we will work together. He will be on hand to meet you when you awake in the body of a Martian. Now come over here and lie on the sofa."
Thorne did as Dr. Morgan directed, and found that he was looking into a mirror painted with alternate circles of red and black. The doctor touched a button and the mirror began to rotate slowly. Morgan's voice came to him, "Now think of that distant world, far off in time and space. Think of it beckoning you."
Thorne obeyed, his eyes fixed on the mirror. He began to feel drowsy, a pleasant lassitude stealing over him. The doctor's voice faded...