CHAPTER 29: "FATAL SHAFT"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
John Carter's long-sword cut empty space. The metal warriors
were moving fast and furious to separate him from the princess. Dejah Thoris
held the short sword in her hand. She knew well how to use it; but the
situation was an impossible one. Her two strikes fell upon sturdy metal
bodies, with no more effect than a tiny insect pestering a fur-encased
Suddenly Oman's forked spear streaked through the air,
pinning the Earthman's sword arm to a wooden door at his back. Carter pulled
a dagger with his free hand and sought to jerk away the spear. But without
warning a heavy metal hand crashed upon his skull. When a robot soldier
removed the trident, the swordsman from another world sank to his knees,
Dejah Thoris shouted an insult at Vovo as the brave warrior
collapsed. But she decided not to stain the honor of imperial Helium by
giving the dwarf further notice. She raised her chin and awaited her fate
in proud silence. She heard the wizard compliment Oman on his good aim
with a trident and order the others to follow him with "the girl." Then
he disappeared into the darkness.'
The girl's shout echoed through the silent streets and
came to the ears of the lone creature approaching the city. Woola had been
moving slowly but the sound of a familiar voice spurred him to a run. Seconds
later he caught the first faint scent of his master and the red princess.
The brute broke out of the virgin forest and entered the fringes of Vovo's
city, unexpected and undetected. All was quiet in the little city. To the
watchdog the many buildings were just cliffs and caves; it did not occur
to Woola to search the deserted city in any systematic way. Instead he
followed his nose until he reached the spot where the scent was strongest.
Most elevatable Martian buildings are lowered during the
day and raised at night, but Vovo's tower operated on the opposite schedule.
The metal building that guarded the skies during the day had been let down
and in the moonlight Woola circled it again and again. The humans must
have been there, his nose told him that. But where had they gone?
The squad of mechano-men seized the Princess of Helium.
For a moment she struggled, but their steel grips were unbreakable. They
did not speak among themselves, but when she asked one of her captors where
they were going, she received a curt answer.
"Vovo commands that you be taken to his new experiment
site within the ruins of the atmosphere plant."
Dejah Thoris knew that any further questioning of the
mindless androids would be useless. However, her curiosity immediately
seized upon the odd statement made by the robot. He spoke of the "ruins
of the atmosphere plant." There was something strange in that remark, the
girl thought. If the great Atmosphere Plant lay in ruins, all the inhabitants
of Mars would have been gasping for oxygen, before her body arrived at
Eo. There must be some other answer. Scientists in the recent, ill-fated
expedition she had accompanied discovered faint evidence of oxygen and
nitrogen being introduced into the air near the North Pole, but that was
very far from Eo. Could it be that the robots of Eo manufactured gasses
to help restore Barsoom's dying skies?
Oman stood over the unconscious form of the Jasoomian.
He had watched the entire affair play itself out, from beginning to end.
He himself had assisted in the decalcification of both of the humans. He
had obeyed his master's every order, but when Master Vovo had commanded
him to kill the Earthman, something inside of Oman's mental circuitry went
awry. He had not followed that order explicitly and, as a result, the unconscious
stranger had not been "disposed of." Master Vovo was temporarily away,
beginning a new phase of his experiments. Vovo's orders were to kill man,
but already his brain was forming new connections and Oman the robot was
trying very hard to think like a human being. No, he would not destroy
the helpless man -- he had another idea.
Dejah Thoris saw that the metal men were taking her out
of the city to some isolated spot in the jungle. At the head of the midnight
excursion was the wizard, whom she thought of as a madman who acted with
no clear motive. She knew nothing of his past and she had only the foggiest
impression of how it was that her petrified body had come to rest in his
laboratory. Nevertheless, the princess understood that the dwarf had only
released her from the stony death in order to collect a huge ransom from
Helium -- also that he had tried to buy the Jasoomian's loyalty with an
offer of command over the conquering robot army he intended to muster.
But now the crazed wizard was leading his mechano-men on a wild race beyond
the city's outskirts, where he planned to wreak a wicked vengeance upon
the royal family of Helium, whom he fancied had dealt him great wrongs.
All of that she comprehended. But exactly what was to become of her, she
had no idea. The princess feared for the life of Captain Carter and she
winced at the thought of what Vovo's "vengeance" might entail.
Oman realized that the key to unlocking the mystery that
surrounded his thinking processes was the recovery of his memory. Many
times he had assisted Vovo and Vo Dor in erasing robotic memories. Now
if he could only determine how to un-erase a set of memories, or discard
"What am I thinking?" Oman said. But the unconscious John
Carter did not respond.
"Who is Vo Dor?" he continued. "I ask myself that question
but I see only the face of Vovo. My thinking is wrong here. I must disentangle
the two names. When did I first learn of Vo Dor? Oh motionless Jasoomian,
if only you would open your eyes. I know your human mind could help me!"
Oman tried to approach the question differently. He asked
himself when he had first seen the features that made up Vovo's countenance
and the answer came -- ten years before Vo Dor arrived at Eo. So! they
really were two different persons. The one who later called himself Vovo
arrived first, then returned ten years later with another, named Vo Dor.
And subsequently Vovo had tampered with Oman's brain, merging his recollection
s of the two guests into a single false memory. But why?
The metal men led the princess through the dense foliage
and into a vast structure of great antiquity. The vast unlit chambers appeared
to extend for long distances in every direction, but where the roof should
have been she could see the nighttime stars. Here and there the interior
walls had been partly torn down. The hulks of ancient machinery were everywhere
and many of their dismantled components lay scattered across the floors.
Before long the thought occurred to the girl that this hoary accumulation
of broken architecture and abandoned equipment must be "ruins of the atmosphere
plant" which had been previously mentioned to her.
"So this is where Vovo takes his revenge upon Helium.
What does he intend to do with me?"
But the mechano-men could give the red princess no answers.