CHAPTER 53: "STRANGE FRIENDS"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
Sola had watched the sleepers all day. Several times she
had put her face to their glass cases, afraid that they had stopped breathing,
but each time she had detected the subtle signs of respiration -- and even
a slight rising and falling in certain blood vessels near the surface of
their skin. She also saw other indications of life and movement, especially
with Dotar Sojat. The green girl was certain that he was becoming more
active as the hours passed. Surely that must be a good sign -- she hoped.
Again and again she had attempted to tune in on the sleepers'
thoughts, but each time she came away from the mental endeavor with practically
nothing to show for her efforts. She practiced on Woola, who was wont to
nap on warm afternoons and found that she could discern sleeping calot
thoughts, after a fashion. But of course a dreaming Martian watchdog does
not project very detailed or interesting thoughts.
Finally, when the sun had disappeared behind the trees,
the girl ate the small meal she had brought with her. Then she curled her
long body into the warmth of the beast's eight-legged embrace, and thus
protected from the night's chill she prepared to doze and wait for the
Sola of Thark knew no gods and she offered no prayers.
But in her heart of hearts she hoped fervently for her friends' recovery
-- and that unspoken ardent hope she shared to the flowers, and to the
trees, and to the undying stars.
The plant king was feeling wondrously amused, listening
to John Carter talk about life on the planet he called "Earth." The unlikely
pair sat beside a warming fire and talked and ate. The plant king's method
of ingesting food struck the Virginian as just a little removed from vulgar,
but he said nothing when the king sucked up Carter's discarded fruit peels
and seed cores though the bottom of its stem.
"Tell me again about how you fought at the Battle of New
Orleans, and when you survived the steamboat explosion at Nauvoo, and how
your dual with Jim Bowie ended!" the plant king insisted.
But Captain Carter had a question of his own.
"You spoke earlier about learning things through your
roots. You hinted that you had learned something about the red princess
or her whereabouts that way. Can you explain it?"
"No -- not to a creature with no roots of its own; I can't
explain anything. And besides that, you've cut mine off, you know. Oh,
but I asked you to, didn't I? This wretched stem bottom does a terrible
job at root work; I'll tell you that. But no matter, I'll plant myself
firmly back in the ground once this adventure is concluded. Yes, you should
have some roots, Jasoomian. Without roots, how can you connect? You're
just a single being without roots and connections -- and that's no good.
We plants keep in touch that way with each other. You'd be surprised what
we share. We possess far greater knowledge than you animals could ever
"To you I'm just an animal?" Captain Carter asked incredulously
"Yes, but don't be sad about it," the plant king responded.
"I have friends among the animals and some of them are very funny. My friends
the animals -- my friend the Jasoomian! It's really quite marvelous, don't
you agree? If you only had roots, then you would know what it means to
be connected. Why, at this very moment I'm conversing with a usalob in
Kaol and a sompus seed that has just sprouted on the banks of the Omean.
And I'd do more than that if this new stem bottom would grow a few root
hairs of its own. I must take my instructional duties among the new generation
very seriously, you know."
"Yes, I am certain that you must." Carter replied.
"Jasoomian, you seem to lose track of this princess of
yours far too often. If you were truly connected, you would not have to
go searching for her. She would be with you right now. You cannot understand,
can you? That is because you are not connected. You have no roots but still
you are a very decent fellow. Very decent of you to make the fire for us.
It's been ages since I spent the night with my petals open!"
The king drifted off into a speechless reverie that John
Carter took to be the plants' way of spending the night. As for Captain
Carter, he slept fitfully. Several time he awoke during the night and found
his thoughts turning to memories of Dejah Thoris, Sola and Woola. The plant
king's conversation was mostly mindless chatter, as far as the swordsman
was concerned, but each time he had used the word "connection" the talking
plant had struck a resonant chord in the Earthman's heart.
He thought back to that first night after their escape
from Thark, when Dejah Thoris had teased him about the women on Earth.
Then he had longed to tell her, that with the hundred and more females
who had passed through his life, during the ages he had spent on the blue
planet, none had ever remained for very long. In all those ages had never
experienced anything beyond a passing interest or a transient affection.
He had never married; and he had never loved -- until he reached Mars.
"Tomorrow I will know her fate," the Virginian mused.
"If she lives -- she must yet live! -- I will tell her of my 'connection.'"
John Carter slept with his sword in his hand. At dawn
the laughing of the plant king awakened him from a very strange dream.
He had dreamt that he gazed through the transparent cover of a Thark incubator
and saw inside a single broken egg. A little green hand was reaching out
to him, but he could not touch the hatchling -- an invisible barrier held
That morning found the rider and his nonsensical mount
deep in the feathered forest. On every side long leaves in the shape of
plumage hung down from a strange species of gnarled trees that Carter did
not recognize. With passing minute the woods grew darker and more foreboding.
Here lived the giant bird-men who had abducted the princess.
The Earthman's receptive telepathy sensed their cackling voices and so
did the plant king. The two of them took to the trees and from a hiding
place among the feathery leaves they looked down upon a thatched village
sprawled in a clearing of the forest. For a brief moment Carter saw below
them the moving form of a woman -- the Princess of Helium!