CHAPTER 43: "INTO SPACE!"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
When Dejah Thoris toppled backward, Cro-Yat was very close
behind. His outstretched arms were prepared to grab her even before she
lost her handhold on the cliff face. The princess, however, fell a little
to one side of her pursuer and the bird-man barely managed to grasp the
girl's ankle as she went flying by.
John Carter's fate was far different from that of the
red princess. While the giantess fell backwards, the Earthman plunged directly
into the declivity the girl had reached before the accident. He expected
to be smashed to death among the huge boulders, but instead the path of
his fall was deflected when his body struck a mass of soft vegetation that
had grown up in the sheltering embrace of the long narrow crack. What was
even more surprising to the man, was that the breach in the cliff wall
did not end at the base of the sheer rock face, but continued far down
into the mountain.
His downward descent was slowed a dozen different times
by irregularities in the declivity but on none of these occasions could
John Carter find a handhold whereby to end his long plunge into the mountain.
On all sides the same soft, slippery vegetation grew, clinging to every
little knob and cranny of the deep shaft. At last the Earthman's fall slowed
to a series of little tumbles and he found himself clinging for dear life
to a slippery shelf deep within the Plateau of Eo. He had fallen so far
downward that no light penetrated the passage from above. It was only when
he had pulled his radium torch from his harness pouch and had shone its
beam all about him that Carter finally understood what perilous a position
he was in.
The slippery vegetation of the upper shaft walls had given
way to a thin coating of wet slime on three sides of the declivity. The
remaining wall was mostly covered with a shallow flow of water which seeped
out from numerous fissures and small holes in the rock. The Earthman attempted
to stand upon the little rock shelf and explore the sides of the shaft
for possible handholds, to see if by any chance he might climb out of the
hellish shaft. Then the shelf gave way under his feet.
Cro-Yat bound the kicking girl in her own harness straps;
then he tied the large cape around her immobile body and slung the bundle
over his shoulders. Screeching and crowing at the top of his lungs, the
savage performed a sort of a dance high on the slopes of the mountain.
When his exuberance had worn off a little the bird-man climbed back down
the hillside, met his companions and then started off at a fast clip into
the trees. The other bird-men followed close behind, whooping and crowing
all the way.
The spent Dejah Thoris was far too exhausted to be afraid.
She slipped into the dark arms of merciful sleep and remained oblivious
throughout her long ride on the bird-man's back.
Again the Earthman was sliding downward into the bowels
of the great mesa. The coal black shaft, running on two sides now with
seeping groundwater, offered no grips for the man's clutching fingers.
Once his downward glide was halted by a narrow spot in the passage but
the only result that came from his squirming and clutching was that he
freed his body sufficiently to continue the uncontrolled descent. At last
the shaft opened up into a larger underground chamber and he fell straight
down, through inky open space. After many heartbeats, with a resounding
splash, he hit a body of cold water, from whence savage eyes and snapping
jaws rose up to greet him.
Nothing Oman had said to her prepared Sola for the sight
that met her wide red eyes. In one corner of the dead wizard's tower laboratory,
surrounded by all sorts of strange equipment and medical apparatus, were
two parallel, horizontal ersite slabs. Each slab formed the top of a sturdy
table, almost waist high to the green girl. Upon one table lay the unmoving
nude body of John Carter and upon the other the similarly unclad and inanimate
form of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. Not far away, in a rigid steel
cage snored a sleeping calot. Otherwise, save for the faint humming of
some electrical machinery, the entire great room was silent and lifeless
"What have you done to them!" cried Sola. "Are they --
are they dead?"
The green girl's voice reached the sensitive ears of the
calot and he awakened with a start. Although he was jumping about in the
cage and obviously roaring with pleasure at the familiar sight of Sola,
very little sound came from the cage. Then the maiden saw that it was encased
in glass and that the clear barrier was blocking out the noise he was making.
"No, Sola, they are not dead." replied the Odwar of Eo
in a soft voice. "They only sleep. It is important that we do not disturb
them just yet; so please do not speak too loudly."
"You say they sleep?" Sola questioned incredulously. "What
sort of sleep is this? To lie as if they are dead on hard tombstones?
"Listen and I shall tell you." Oman answered.
"When the one you call John Carter first came here with
the afflicted princess, Vovo, the Wizard of Eo, laid her out on that very
same table. She has not moved so much as a hair since then. Next the wizard
put the Jasoomian upon the other slab and there he cured him of the stony
paralysis in his hands. The man was put to sleep for that procedure and
he too has remained there, unmoving, ever since. Now a night and a day
have passed and I wonder how much longer this will go on. Vovo has administered
to them strong drugs and bombarded their bodies with unusual forms of radiation.
They do not sleep in an ordinary way. They dream constantly and that is
the only life they know. Should one of them truly believe destruction was
at hand, in that dream, I am altogether certain that neither would survive
to reawaken in this life you, I and the rest of the world now calls reality."
"Nothing you say makes any sense, metal man. I would run
to their sides and bid them awaken this very minute if you did not hold
my hand so tightly -- that and free Woola too! Is this some prison, the
likes of which I have never imagined?"
"No -- not a prison, but a place of safety. The two humans
share a common dream world right now. It helps to have the calot near,
for they sense its presence and that unseen recognition helps bind them
both more closely to our waking world. But I cannot let the beast go about
unrestrained; neither can I allow you to approach the sleepers too closely
or even disturb them from a distance. Truly, the two of them must work
their own way out of the delusion Vovo created."
"If any of us who do not share that dream interrupt it
at a critical moment or interfere much with the course it runs, your friends
will suffer permanent madness or perhaps even death. The layers of hallucination
must be pealed back, one at a time, and it is the dreamers who must do
that, working together. We who are on the outside of their imaginative
world can only observe and assist in the most gentle and harmless ways.
If you can understand that, Sola, then perhaps you can help them."