18: "THE YOUNGSTERS' DESSERT!"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The ascending ramp wound around a large
open shaft in the center of one the extensive building's many wings. At
the beginning of each new storey along the way, the ramp rose up through
a tunnel a few yards long. In the next of these tunnels the swordsman entered
he found his path blocked by hundreds of hissing, gurgling reptiles, every
one of them a carnivorous monster with many rows of dagger-sharp fangs.
Pausing, and then taking several steps back, the Earthman looked back over
his shoulder and saw quite a few more of the big reptiles, silently trailing
him and closing fast with each passing heartbeat.
If the daughter of Mors Kajak had been
a true daughter of the cult of Issus, she might have then been saying her
final prayers at that moment. But, instead, a thought came to her -- as
if from far away -- "Courage, Dejah Thoris!"
For some inexplicable reason the mother
durkoos just then soared off, leaving the maid of Mars in the nest alongside
its screeching young. The blind little monsters did not attack her directly,
but one made a lucky thrust of its pointy beak into a tender spot on the
girl's bosom and she determined that she would at least die in relative
dignity, outside of the tumultuous nest. Her limbs felt as though they
were made of lead, but she edged very slowly out of the bed of bones and
rubbish. Her skin was already ashen gray and very soon would be stony hard.
The deadly purple vapors she had encountered earlier had nearly finished
doing their noxious work upon her.
John Carter eyed the rows of flashing
teeth with a grim smile of determination; he had not come so far to be
turned away by these packs of hideous reptilian things. There must be a
way around them and the exit to the roof could not be far off. He calculated
his chances in jumping over them, but in the dark narrow confines of either
the tunnel ahead of him or the one he had just come up from, that was impossible.
The open space around which the ramp twined presented a vast blackness
on his left which the dim light of his torch could not penetrate. The wall
on his left was solid carborundum, ten feet thick.
He was vaguely familiar with the tree-haunting,
rock-infesting arboks of equatorial Mars, having inspected a couple of
Tharkian harness pouches made of their durable hides. He knew that such
reptiles could leap as far and fast as his own mighty muscles could take
him, if their blood and brains were sufficiently warmed by the sun. But
these were creatures of the shadows; that fact was demonstrated by their
reluctance to approach any closer than the corona of his torch light. They
would wait until his little light died out and then would attack him by
the dozens -- in utter darkness.
Dejah Thoris had slowly and painfully
worked her way back to the edge of the roof, this time on her increasingly
inflexible hands and knees. In the distance she saw the mother durkoos,
circling a spot on the ground like a huge vulture, just looking for the
most opportune time to strike. It would soon take a new victim, she knew
-- and then the feathered monster would return. Her chieftain was nowhere
in sight. She tried with all her might to call for him.
"John -- Dotar Sojat! Oh please answer
me; where are you!"
The girl's raspy voice was little more
than a whisper now. Her soft inarticulate words could not reach him, were
he standing a hundred paces away. All was lost. She wondered if she had
strength enough to hurl her adamantine body into the plaza, so very very
The Virginia Captain agonized on what
path to take next. The reptile pack behind him was the smaller of the two.
He might be able to slaughter a host of them and then jump to the safety
of the descending ramp. Another level down there was an open exit door
he remembered having passed. He had just about settled on this option when,
out of the forward company of hissing monsters a large, vigorous hizzah
If the repulsive reptile can be described
in earthly terms at all, it might be said to look something like the fabled
Chinese dragon. Its lengthy, sinuous body is covered in a mass of impenetrable
scales, practically as resistant as diamonds. The front arms end in long
sharp claws, equally hard, while the back limbs are but the atrophied wings
of its prehistoric, flying progenitors. The Barsoomian hizzah propels itself
with an extremely powerful tail, much like the sidewinder rattlesnake does
on the blue planet. And, unlike its shadow-loving fellow reptiles, the
hizzah will attack in the light as well as the dark.
With his right hand John Carter thrust
out the excellent long-sword of ancient Mars, while his left reached for
the short sword at his side. His smoldering torch went tumbling to the
floor of the ramp.
"Feed on this!" shouted the Earthman,
pointing the short sword directly into the open jaws of the dragon.
At the same time his powerful right
hand plunged the longer blade into the belly of the beast. By a great stroke
of luck the honed tip of the Orovarian blade slipped between the less compactly
arrayed under-scales at the same time the other sword ripped into the dragon's
throat. The thing writhed about for a few moments and then fell to the
ramp dead. John Carter barely had time enough to recover the flickering
firebrand before the arboks closed in from two sides.
A sudden inspiration came to the Earthman.
He pulled the second, unlit torch from the confining straps of his harness
and set it ablaze from the flame of the fallen one. Then, holding fire
in both hands, he alternately forced the light into both of the creeping
hordes. The arboks fell back on either side, leaving an open space to the
front and back of John Carter and his fresh kill. Then the swordsman worked
feverishly to slit open the hizzah and remove its internal organs. Each
time the arboks made the slightest move toward him the reptiles got another
taste of fire.
When the dragon was gutted, John Carter
crawled inside the bloody covering. With straps pulled from his warrior's
harness he tied himself in, so that nothing but the diamond scales might
meet the jaws of an attacker. Replacing his swords in his belt, and holding
a torch in each hand, John Carter moved forward. The first attack came
from behind, but he withstood the onslaught. The clawing bodies were all
over his back, but the hizzah's tough scales protected the Earthman. Each
time he waved a torch the reptiles in the rear backed off and those in
front leaped one direction or another, opening a way for him. Twice he
was knocked to his knees and once an attacker managed to slither in between
his knees for an anxious moment, but the Earthman pressed on. Finally past
most of the pack, he let go the heavy carcass and one of the torches. Then
with a judicious application of the long-sword he made his way free of
the hideous beasts.
A sliver of light broke the darkness
ahead, then another and another, forming a hollow rectangle. John Carter
pushed forward with a kick of his foot and the age-old wooden door shattered
into pieces. Carter stepped into the light. He had reached the roof at
"John -- Dotar Sojat! Oh please answer
me! Where are you?" a faint voice called out.