"A Shot in the Dark"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
From the days of her earliest memories
Dejah Thoris had always felt most alive and electrified when in the face
of grave danger. Barsoom is a dangerous place, of course, and her opportunities
to feel that delicious thrill had not been meager. There had been a time,
when her grandfather was yet Jed of Hastor, when the buoyancy tanks on
his personal flyer had burst and the little craft spun down from the sky,
out of control. She was only a hatchling then but she had understood the
danger perfectly. Her mother held the babe in her protective arms, but
little Dejah broke free and gazed on in wonder, as the ground seemed to
be rushing up into the sky at her. The emergency containment balloon suddenly
shot open, the diving craft slowed considerably and the crash was not one-tenth
as bad as it could have been. The family survived. Little Dejah, sole heir
to the the double star insignia of Tardos Mors, only cried when her mother
said the esciting flyer ride was over.
"A strange time to be thinking of my
mother!" the princess said aloud, but the Jasoomian did not answer.
There was something resembling a horizontal
stone walkway attached to the palace wall outside of the window. What its
original purpose might have been, John Carter could not imagine, but it
was intricately carved and only offered a very unsure footing at best.
It ran along several feet below the level of the window and it was only
with the greatest difficulty that he managed to reach the narrow ledge,
after having lowered Dejah Thoris down upon it by a strap from her own
harness. A rare layer of clouds hid the later hour's starlight, but reflected
back a dim glow from the bonfires kept burning all night at Thark's major
street intersections. With only this faint light as a guide, the Earthman
crept along the narrow shelf and waited for his eyes to become more accustomed
to the dark. Then a heavy body dropped down from out of nowhere, right
"Stand aside, you idiot!" shouted an
officer among the palace guards in the throne room. He pushed down the
swordsman who had chased Woola through the window, jumped up upon the giant's
lower back and pulled his own lanky olive-skinned body over the window
sill. His great bulging eyes scanned the darkness for any sign of movement.
There was a rustling in the trees below, at some distance from the window.
The officer repeatedly fired the radium pistol blindly at the sound. He
instantly heard the distinctive squealing of a thoat in great pain. He
The Earthman smelled the calot before
he could see him. Then once again Woola nearly knocked John Carter from
the precarious ledge. How the big creature managed to get around him, on
a slippery stone path not quite so wide as his master's shoulders, the
Virginia swordsman never understood. But by the time the green officer
was firing the pistol, six feet above from the window, John Carter could
make out the dim figures of Woola and Dejah Thoris, not far from him on
the walkway. They were perfect targets for a Thark gunman!
Owing to the peculiar design of the
Martian firearm cartridges, they do not explode in a loud concussion when
fired in the dark. The shots the officer had popped off sped silently down
into the darkness, with a couple of the bullets pierced two living bodies,
far below. It was purely blind luck but the green shooter did some serious
damage to the creatures. Unfortunately for him the recipients of his barrage
were the courtyard sentry who was chasin the speeding thoat through the
blackness of the old arboretum, and the thoat itself!
No sooner had the green officer hit
the squealing thoat in the trees, then Captain Carter's calot began to
rumble with the peculiar noise that passes for a warning growl among Martian
watchdogs. Of course the growling gave away his position at once. A radium
cartridge whistled past Woola's left ear, then another, even closer.
The shooter in the window had not yet
seen John Carter, below him in the dark, and the Earthman knew he had but
a second to act. With his short sword belt and scabbard fully extended,
Carter whipped the belt assembly up into the space above his head and the
metal scabbard clanked against the ersite windowsill, setting off a shower
of sparks in the night. A split-second later the shooter plunged from the
window to the ground with a wail of pain. Then again all was quiet.
"My God! what a lucky hit!" cried the
bronzed swordsman, but somehow he knew that the officer had not fallen
from the window as a result of the noisy scabbard. Something inexplicable
had just occurred and the Earthman did not have time to ponder the sudden
salvation. Facing outward from the wall he looked down and saw the dim
outline of a lithe figure, mounted on a restless thoat, sixty feet below.
Beside the rider and mount was a second steed with an empty saddle. Fifteen
feet to his left, on the narrow ledge, crouched Dejah Thoris, short sword
in hand, with the calot in front of her. Then John Carter glanced to his
left. Twice that distance away, just emerging from the coal black shadows,
were three more Thark swordsmen!
The Princess of Helium glanced once
again at the courtyard so far off, under her feet. She measured the distance
in her mind and tried to conceive of some way to reach the ground without
critical injury. Surely Woola could jump that far safely. Perhaps, if she
hung onto his back and he leaped off the ledge -- no, not in the dark.
She surely would knocked off the beast. If her luck was bad, she might
even land under his heavy body. There must be another way.
"John Carter! Can you jump down there
with me in your --- Oh! look out!"
A pistol discharged directly above
his head, sending its missile flying right through his wavy hair. A new
marksman was in the window! Then, again, silence for many heartbeats.
Strange as it may sound, it was not
until many days after the night's ordeal had passed, that John Carter and
Dejah Thoris put together enough small clues to guess what it was that
had saved them, there in the shadows of Tal Hajus' palace. After two green
men had met their deaths at the window, it became obvious to both the humans
that some exterior force was knocking down the most threatening members
of the guard, before they could use their deadly firearms effectively.
The most obvious answer, that occurred simultaneously to both the swordsman
and the princess, was that Sola was using John Carter's missing gun to
eliminate the dangerous attackers. Probably that exchange of thoughts was
the first telepathic interchange between the young woman and the man. Subsequently,
however, they discovered that they were both wrong in making this logical
Although they could not see the source
of their salvation, the two escapees were aware that the presence of Tal
Hajus' warriors in the window above their heads had ceased to be so threatening.
Soon, however, the whole area would be swarming with more Thark guardsmen.
They had to reach the ground as quickly as possible. Once more the couple
traded these common thoughts by the silent communication that so often
passes between attuned minds on the red planet.
"Courage, Princess!" John Carter said
aloud. But one glance into her beautiful, flashing eyes told the gentleman
from Virginia that there was no fear in her.