CHAPTER 45: "TRAPPED!"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
While the bird-man leader, Cro-Yat, carried Dejah Thoris
to his strange jungle village, John Carter was near death, deep within
the Plateau of Eo. The girl tried with all her might to restore her mental
connection with the bronzed swordsman. She knew he must be struggling to
find her; that much she could catch of his distant thought-words. As the
Jasoomian himself might put it, she was certain that he "still lived."
However, the mental chatter projected by the bird-men flooded into her
mind in torrents, practically submerging her own thoughts. Try as she might
to touch him, her chieftain was far beyond the girl's reach.
The great dragon-fish rested the murky shallows of the
underground lake. From its favorite lair the lake bottom rose up, forming
a rocky beach at the water's edge. Beyond the shore, among the ribs of
rock holding up the barely visible, vault-like ceiling, was a pale glow
-- a small patch of diffused, reflected sunlight. This provided the scant
illumination by which the great saucer-eyes of the creature discerned moving
shapes in the vast, inky cavern. A dark shape crept slowly over the faint
spot of light and then was gone. That stealthy movement did not bother
the aquatic dragon -- the venomous four-legged spiders of Eo never ventured
into the sable waters of the buried lake.
Inside the creature's gargantuan belly John Carter had
almost given up hope. It was impossible for him to make his way back through
the deadly gastric acids to the monster's gullet and mouth. At most he
had a minute's air left to him and that dwindling supply of putrid gasses
was scarcely breathable. He had lost his radium torch in the long slide
down the slimy passage and into the underground lake. However he was surprised
to catch flashes of an eerie glow, cast by a few phosphorescent organisms
the dragon had swallowed along with his own body. The feeble radiance revealed
what his reason had already determined, that the loathsome bowel enclosing
him was many times wider than the length of his own frame and that its
space was mostly taken up with churning visceral juices and thousands of
dissolving body parts.
In his right hand the Earthman still clutched the Orovarian
blade and with this he slashed out in a final fit of frustration. To his
amazement the long-sword struck something solid. Anchored by this one point
of firmness in the writhing intestine, he pulled himself along his own
sword and grasped the only handhold available on the slippery gut wall.
In the dim illumination provided by occasional light flashes, John Carter
found that with his left hand he was holding onto the hard edges of an
ulcer on one wall of the monster's internal cavity. That was all the grip
he needed, with his sword arm Carter sliced into the greasy intestinal
enclosure again and again. Hot blood spurted upon him in a continual shower
and the dragon began to twist violently. But through all of this turmoil
the swordsman held on.
Hissing with anguish, the dragon-fish rose from its lair
to the water's surface. There, unseen in the shadows of the gloomy cavern,
its body writhed like a massive spring, first coiling, then uncoiling,
then doubling over its great length into a collapsed loop.
Still John Carter's fingers grasped the hardened ulcer.
The creature's tremendous flow of blood washed away the burning acids,
but his air was gone. For all he knew, beyond the wall of the gut he would
be smothered by the horrid thing's bile, but there was no other way. Again
he slashed out with the long-sword. The barrier began to give way and,
when he least expected to live another moment, John Carter's steel broke
through into open space.
Oman continued his conversation with the green girl. At
her insistence the mechano-man released the calot from its cage, but he
was careful to first apply a face-guard that would muffle the beast's roars
and yelps. With Woola chained to the wall, a safe distance from the two
unconscious humans, Oman began to reveal to the Thark maiden an idea that
had been growing inside his scientifically augmented brain for two days.
"In Vovo's web of delusion," he began, "the dreamers construct
their fantasy experiences from perceptions and memories. These small constructs
of the brain are held together in a pre-planned mental agenda which the
wizard designed long ago. It works something like our telling a child a
story and then stopping every so often to let the little one add his own
ideas to that story."
"Tharks do not tell stories to hatchlings; neither do
hatchlings remain children for very long among us. Your explanation makes
little sense to me." Sola interjected.
"What I am trying to say," continued the robot, "is that
I cannot alter the pre-planned mental agenda that Vovo has implanted into
the minds of your friends. That wretched script of Vovo's creation is the
backbone of their dreams. The two sleepers add in the flesh of their own
experiences in ways that they themselves do not recognize. For example,
the agenda in the Jasoomian's mind tells him to fight, to protect himself
and others, and to struggle to survive. To that script he adds his own
desires, dangers, friends and enemies. These come from his memories or
from things he senses around him while he is yet asleep. Something so subtle
as a whisper in his ear can turn the dream-story in an entirely new direction."
"My instruments tell me that at this very moment Dotar
Sojat is preparing to fight a great four-legged animal. His mind calls
it a "spider" but I suspect the mental suggestion for that creature in
his dream came from one of the little flies that haunt this laboratory.
Perhaps a fly buzzed close to him and in his sleep he heard it. Now his
unconscious imagination is turning that small stimulus into something large
and dangerous. The Jasoomian will probably focus so much of his dreaming
attention on the huge insect of his fantasy that he will not reach out
to the mind of Dejah Thoris in useful ways. Although she is right beside
him, here in this laboratory, in his mind she is far away. The imaginary
dangers will come and go and perhaps all he will do is fight them, over
and over again -- and thus the agenda could be endless."
"The drugs Vovo gave them will soon wear off. Then all
that will be left to sustain their illusions are the dreamers' own thoughts.
Now is the time to put an end to the horrid experiment."
"I understand the example of the backbone and the flesh,"
Sola answered. "If a fly has become a giant foe in the man's fantasy, could
it not be replaced by something else? Can you not put something important
into his dream that Dotar Sojat would not see as a danger?"
"I try, but not with much success. I may eventually have
more success with the woman. Her mind has been expanded in strange ways.
In her dream she functions as a giantess, but the true expansion is in
her reasoning and her sensitivity. If I could only bring her dream back
in contact with the man's dream -- or bring the man back to her. But it
"Hopeless -- unless you too could enter their dreams?"
the girl asked of the mechano-man.
"Exactly, Sola. And neither I nor any robot in Eo has