"Lost In The Desert"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The life of Captain John Carter, late
of Virginia, has been one of many remarkable coincidences. Isolated clouds
appear now and then in the skies over Barsoom, but solid sheets of gray,
spread across the heavens are a rare sight indeed. As the Earthman and
the red princess plunged from the end of the ornamental stone beam, the
lesser moon shone through an open patch of sky for just about as long as
the telling of it takes. During that brief interval John Carter reached
out with the loop of his sword-belt. Then came the shock of collision!
The lone rider dropped the warm pistol
on the pavement and wheeled his steed into the night. Before long there
would be a general rush of the jeds, high chieftains and lower chieftains
to the jeddak's palace. He had to ready himself for that moment -- and
the for inevitable questions.
"Make new water and air!" He spoke
aloud, as if his slate gray charger could fathom the feigned conversation.
"That notion has led to this -- a dozen of my battlemates dead by my own
gunfire. Not in glorious, hand to hand battle, but from the shadows. A
water-hearted deception to make an alliance with a water-loving race! Issus!"
For the first time in his very long
life, the green man had not enjoyed slaughtering his prey. And fact that
"John!" she cried out, but Dejah Thoris
had no words to follow her exclamation. She could only hold on with all
her strength and peer up through the man's wind-blown locks. The leather
strap in the Jasoomian's strong hands had caught upon the sharp broken
edge of a time-worn stone carving: they were dangling in the air, rocked
by a growing wind.
"Hurry, John Carter!" Sola cried out.
Since she had first spotted the two humans above her head a full xat [3
minutes] had passed, and it seemed to have taken a full year!
The strained leather strap ripped and
then broke entirely in two. Again the couple fell downward, but this time
the speed and impact were not life-threatening. They landed atop a clump
of dense shrubbery. Descending to the ground, Carter and Dejah Thoris walked
a few paces, leaped upon the waiting thoat and tore off into the night.
All through the vast ruined city of
Thark the alarm sounded. The gates were turned shut and every large gun
atop the walls was manned. Or, at least that was what was supposed to happen.
In fact, only a few of the warriors ran to the walls. Elsewhere a strange
mixture of mass confusion and mass indifference prevailed for half the
The blood raced hot in Dejah Thoris'
veins; the stimulation of the narrow escape and their wild passage through
the darkened streets was almost more than the princess could have hoped
for. Faithful Sola, long familiar with the city, guided them from atop
her own fleet-footed mount. Several times they lost sight of her but that
mattered not; running thoats can follow a lead charger with unwavering
exactness through the darkest nights.
Sola slowed her mount and waved back
to the humans, signaling caution. They had made it to the southern wall
of Thark. Ahead of them was a small, unguarded gate. However a few green
citizens were coming and going and Sola thought it best to wait.
Along his round-about path back to
the palace, Tars Tarkas met with a mounted company of Tal Hajus' guards.
They all paused for a moment to exchange information. This troop was on
its way to the south gate, searching for two fleeing red men. He told them
he had seen two small suspicious looking figures on thoatback, riding toward
the north gate. In the dark had thought them young Tharks. The guards tuned
and raced northward. At the main entrance to the palace nobody seemed to
be in charge and hundreds of excited warriors were milling about. Among
the moving mass of olive-skinned bodies he saw Gar Kovas, an old comrade
from a hundred far-flung battles.
"Did you hear, Tars Tarkas? An attempt
was made upon the jeddak's life. He yet lives, however. Some say the attack
came by the hand of the Heliumite who was seeking an alliance. But Tal
Hajus himself reports ten Thurd assassins and two Zodangan gun-sellers
were the attackers. He has killed them all!"
A trace of a smile crossed the high
chieftain's lips. Then he felt drops of moisture on his ears and cheeks.
Spurting blood? The spew of an insult? The big man looked to both sides
and then upward into the wind. It was rain -- the first he had ever experienced.
"What place is this, John Carter?"
the princess asked. Why have we stopped?"
The girl was behind the Earthman in
the saddle. The view from his position was a better one, but he could only
shrug his shoulders in ignorance. The place smelled of death. The entire
scene was one of neglect and decay. Then Sola gave the sign to move on.
The stench grew much worse as they passed through the small gateway. The
area was obviously a refuse dump for the disposal of butchered animal remains.
Calots and six-legged rats feasted and then fought one another to feast
some more. The riders saw half a dozen green men who had been piling up
whitened bones in old handcarts. But the scavengers were shielding their
faces from the rising wind and paid no attention to their passing.
Once they were safely through the charnel
lot the escapees urged their mounts to greater speed and soon Thark was
but a dark line behind them on the horizon. The wind died down a little.
Then the skies let loose a sprinkle of water.
"Rain!" exclaimed John Carter, "the
first I've seen on Mars."
"And me also," responded Dejah Thoris.
"But I have seen frost and snow, which are but frozen forms of the same
thing. Isn't it wonderful!"
All night the fugitives traveled but
just after dawn one of the thoats showed signs of sickness and collapsed.
They left it and plodded on, first south for a little while and then east,
across endless miles of desert waste. This took them directly opposite
the course to Helium, which Sola was certain would soon be overrun with
searching warriors. Her plan was to circle back to the northern route,
once they were well out of the Tharks' territory.
After an eventless day upon the dead
sea bottom they camped beneath the overhang of an isolated rock outcropping.
Their saddlebags carried only scant provisions, but Woola brought in a
small creature which they roasted for an evening meal. The night was a
In the glow of the dying campfire Dejah
Thoris spoke: "We are surrounded by great dangers, John. Who knows what
tomorrow will being? Helium may never know the debt she owes you. But tonight,
my chieftain, I impart to you every token of her gratefulness. I am happy."