JOHN CARTER AND THE PERILS OF MARS
1941-43 story by John Coleman Burroughs
2004 novelization by Dale R. Broadhurst
86,500 words at approx. 1200 words per chapter, in 73 chapters
Draft #1 -- Text completed April 24, 2004
ERB Text, ERB Images, John Carter® and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
CHAPTER 1: "INTRODUCTION"
Your reply reached us a few weeks ago but I have delayed responding until I could gather together a number of things which will be helpful in relating the account of how Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium, first met Captain John Carter, the traveler across space from your world. I hope you will forgive me for making you wait so long for this story, but I feel that the additional information I have collected has made the delay well worthwhile.
We were amazed and delighted to hear that the compilations of events here on Barsoom which we have relayed to you by this strange interplanetary wireless system have received such a wide readership on Jasoom. We understand why the stories must be retold there as if they are fiction; although, to be truthful, Captain Paxton is yet a little chagrined, to think that his personal adventures are sold back on the world of his birth as a romance novel! As for myself, I still recall our harrowing experiences at Morbus with much romantic feeling and I am happy to have assisted Ulysses in his telling of that story, as well as with the subsequent accounts we have relayed to you through the technical marvel Mr. Gridley has invented.
It was not too long after her remarkable recovery from the critical injuries that she suffered in the flyer mishap that Her Majesty stopped over in Duhor, while Captain Carter was paying a memorial visit to Okar, where he is yet honored as the Warlord of Mars. She tarried as a guest in my father's palace for five days and during that private visit we passed much of the time discussing what has transpired on Barsoom in the years since our Earthmen arrived here so suddenly and mysteriously. The Princess and I share a special bond in that regard and I am greatly honored that Captain Carter continues to call Jed Vad Varo (my Ulysses Paxton) his dearest friend.
But that's enough about my romantic feelings! I shall tell you the story that Her Majesty recounted to me now, just as she gave it while at Duhor, interspersed with additional insights furnished by my husband and by Jedwar Kantos Kan, following his recent interviews with the daughter of the Jeddak of Thark. I give all this to you as honest history and you may decide for yourself whether or not you can give credence to the more fantastic portions of the story.
Here begins the strange tale of Captain John Cater, an Earthman whose powerful will carried him across the vast stretches of trackless space to the planet Mars. It is also the story of a princess of Mars, the royal maiden Dejah Thoris of Helium, who became his companion in a great adventure -- an adventure which even they recall as being almost beyond belief.
During the time on Earth when nations such as the United States of America were yet in the hot air balloon stage of exploring the cloudy heavens, the ancient civilization of Mars had for ages sent great vessels into the thin cold air of that dying planet. It was onto just such a giant ship that Talak Xor, Master of the Imperial Academy of Helium welcomed a party of officials and scientists atop the Royal Airdrome one fateful day.
"Your Majesty! We are honored by your presence on board the Haldar during the initial stages of our expedition beyond Polodona. Every possible preparation has been made for your comfort and four battleships will stand in readiness to return Your Majesty to Helium the very moment your royal person is pleased to leave us!"
"I require no special treatment, Master Professor. I am accompanied by a single servant and both of us will perform our share of the work on board. I trust that the naval officers of my grandfather's empire will protect us all. And I shall not leave your expedition until its flight path again takes us near Greater Helium." Then the young woman added, "You and the admiral are in command -- I shall not interfer with your duties of leadership. Now, if you'll please point out the way to my cabin, I believe your expedition's ships are about ready to depart."
Not many days before this, in the opposite hemisphere of the red planet, the extraordinary arrival of Captain John Carter, late of the Army of Northern Virginia, transpired -- unanticipated and unwitnessed by any denizen of Barsoom (as Mars is called in the language spoken there). The account of Captain Carter being attacked while prospecting for gold in Arizona, his subsequent escape into a weird cavern and his uncanny transport to Mars has been told so many times that [[it]] must already be known to the reader. It is only necessary to mention here, that well before his suffering the remarkable effects of the strong gaseous vapors inside the lonely Arizona cavern, John Carter had frequently gazed in wonder upon the red planet in the nighttime sky. For more years than he could remember the glittering point of light seemed to beckon him with a strange, irresistible attraction. He felt that the powers governing that far off world must also he guiding his own fate, and that one day the mystery of his overpowering fascination with Mars must surely be revealed to him.
The revelation came in a way he could never have anticipated, there in the stillness of the Arizona nightfall. But when the unexpected transition came he realized that he had no hope or desire to challenge ethereal destiny. The man stretched his arms toward the flaming planet, and in an instant of extreme cold and darkness he was drawn through the immensity of space to a new beginning -- a new life in the world beyond earthly existence.
The paralyzing chill melted slowly away. His feelings of weightless were replaced by the gentle tug of alien gravity. John Carter opened his eyes upon a weird landscape. In the sky above a shrunken, sober sun cast its rays through an atmosphere the color of an eternal dawn. Stars twinkled here and there which are never visible during daylight hours on Earth.
"This can't be Earth," the Virginia Captain murmered, as he rose up from a soft yellowish bed of spongy vegetation. He was dazed and knelt unsteady on the unfamiliar ground. John Carter was naked, unarmed and evidently alone in a strange new world. The mosslike vegetation stretched around him in all directions -- unbroken, save for some slight outcroppings of rock and a few diminutive clumps of unknown plants -- for as far as his eyes could see.
"Could this be Mars?" he wondered silently. And then, aloud, he continued his question: "or is it -- death?"
CHAPTER 2: "A GRIM SURPRISE"
The flagship of the Helium expedition crossed the planet's invisible equatorial line early on the seventh day of the mission. The entire fleet of airships now encircled the Haldar, glistening in the morning sun's rays like a flock of great silvery birds, gliding effortlessly in their migration to some distant destination. Princess Dejah Thoris stood gripping the guard rail at the elevated bow of the huge warship. She shivered in the the steady wind, practically naked and unadorned, save for a few hairclips and the radiant gems that decorated her hand-crafted leather sandals. Stretching around her waist, under her unclad breasts and up about her shoulders and neck were the belts and buckles of a common airman's leather harness, one strap of which she had secured to the rail. This sparse apparel offered no protection from the blasts of frigid air but the princess withstood the chill without complaint, her heart warmed by the exhileration of flying so high, so fast, and above regions of Barsoom she had never before set eyes upon. For the first time in weeks she was totally happy and without a care in the world
Springing to his feet Captain Carter was surprised to learn that his every movement was magnified in the low gravity of Mars. A flick of the wrist sent his arm outward its full length. What would have been a three foot stride on Earth took him three yards or more in his new environment. He would have to learn to walk all over again, as the muscular exertion which carried him easily and safely upon his home planet played strange antics with him upon Mars. Yes, it must be Mars -- no other explanation seemed possible.
The Earthman spent a considerable amount of time exploring his new situation. Sooner or later he knew he must find water and food. Clothing, weapons, and shelter might also be useful additions to his current set of possessions -- [[quick = which]] consisted of absolutely nothing. In his search he happened upon a low, walled enclosure about four feet in height, made of stones and some kind of cement. It had obviously been constructed by intelligent beings in the not too distant past, but the only possible commodity it might supply to meet his current needs was what appeared to be a nest of very large eggs. And, before he could examine this marvel very closely, John Carter met with the first of the many perils [[of]] Mars. A score of sinister looking Martians almost took him unawares from behind. Coming, as they did, over the soft and soundless moss, they might easily have captured him, but their intentions were far more hostile. The rattling of the accouterments of the foremost warrior warned the traveler's ears and he spun around to meet the unexpected threat.
For an instant the soldier from another world could scarcely comprehend the scene; it looked as if armed giants with a dozen limbs each were bearing down upon him. His mind quickly sorted out the details: they were huge, six-limbed creatures mounted upon even larger eight-legged steeds. They presented the picture rather like a dozen gorillas, each riding a rhinoceros and thrusting forward a great metal shod spear. At his first sight of these charging Martians, John Carter's muscles reacted instinctively. He leaped up to the top of the egg-filled enclosure. The full extent of his powerful jump did not end there, however. In the lesser gravity of Mars Captain Carter was able to vault entirely over the wide enclosure. This marvelous display stunned the savage green-skinned riders. They eyed him warily and exchanged strange sounds that Captain Carter guessed to be language. He was just about to continue his leaping escape when the Earthman noticed that several of the giants were pointing their long-barreled firearms directly at him. Running away no longer seemed to be a very good idea.
After the giants had conversed for a short time, one of their number dismounted, threw down his spear and firearm, and came around the end of the egg enclosure toward the Virginian, entirely unarmed and naked, except for a few ornamented straps which crossed his upper and lower torso. When he was within a few feet of John Carter the tall green creature performed a remarkable bodily transformation, going down upon four limbs and holding out his remaining two arms, palm first, as if to show that he carried no weapons. In Captain Carter's mind the monster looked very much like misconstrued centaur, drawn from a madman's retelling of Earth's mythological past. He accepted a metal armlet that the creature had unclasped from its own forearm and offered to him, but all the Earthman could give in return was a nod of acknowledgment and mimicry of the alien's open-palm gesture.
That seemed to be just what the giant wished to see. He stood back up on his two rear limbs, voiced something like a gurgling laugh, and motioned to the white man that he should take a seat behind him on the glossy back of his mount. There the Virginian hung on as best he could to the Martian warrior's leather body harness and the entire troop galloped away toward the range of hills in the distance.
Crossing over the hills the riders came down onto a low table land upon which the Earthman beheld an enormous ruined city. The savage caravan soon entered into this extensive collection of buildings and John Carter beheld, for the first time, evidence that the green giants might not be the only inhabitants of his new home. The riders were much too large for the doors, windows and alleyways of the ruined metropolis; all of which appeared to have been built by some other, smaller race.
"Could other humans be on Mars -- my size?" questioned the Earthman. But the only intelligible sounds he could discern among the green man's grunts and roars were syllables that sounded something like "Tars Tarkas!" And that meant nothing to Captain Carter.
As they entered the a plaza near the center of the city, hundreds of the twelve-foot creatures gathered around the riders, eyeing the white man suspiciously. By this time the Earthman had heard the sounds "Tars Tarkas" so often that he supposed it must be the name or title of his friendly captor. After the party had dismounted, this same green leader indicated by crude pantomime that the white man should give the giants a demonstration of his remarkable jumping abilities. This request Captain Carter complied with, giving some obvious satisfaction to the green leader and his people.
After skipping around like some monstrous grasshopper for a while, the captive tired of the sport and ceased his frenetic activity. This did not suit the pleasure of one towering green man who stepped out of the crowd, yelling incoherent sounds like "sak, "drogar," and "gorthan-jur!" The meddler pushed forward, tripped the white man, and then proceeded to bang him about, all the while laughing boisterously at his superb joke. In a flash the Earthman sprang into the air, swinging a potent right fist squarely into the brutal fellow's jaw and he went down like a felled ox. The downed brute did not move a hair and Captain Carter thought it entirely possible that he had slain the giant antagonist with a single blow.
This continued display of agility and conflict brought wild peals of laughter and applause from the giants and John Carter was left to wonder what sort of mad creatures he had fallen with. Surely they were a totally unpredictable and incredibly dangerous pack of monsters!
CHAPTER 3: "THE FAIR CAPTIVE"
The small fleet of Heliumite airships had already conducted much research in the upper atmosphere of the northern hemisphere. The expedition gathered thousands of containers filled with air samples, as well as stacks of completed notebooks, numerous temperature and pressure recordings and new charts of the Barsoomian air currents, all of which were of priceless value to the scientists and navy of the empire. But an equal number of samples and readings had to taken at much lower altitudes. Dejah Thoris listened attentively as the commanding admiral addressed an assembly aboard the flagship on this very subject.
"We will begin our low level survey at a point between the cities of Ptarth and Zodanga. As we come closer to Zodanga I expect the utmost vigilance of all personnel, for the likelihood of war is undeniable. The fleet will rendezvous for a transfer of supplies and equipment over the ruins of Korad. Scouts tell us that the place is deserted and entirely safe..."
Captain John Carter is a mysterious man of many lifetimes. This is not the place to recite his memories of centuries gone by, but that fact explans why he is also a man of many languages. He very quickly learned enough of the common language on Mars to suffice for his daily needs. Shortly after his initial contact with the green men the Virginian found that nearly always [[he]] could guess the correct Martian terms for objects and sometimes also for personal names, titles and actions. It eventually struck him that he was sensing the very thoughts of the green giants. Although every Martian is hatched with telepathic abilities, the Earthman had to discover and develop the talent entirely on his own. In the process he also learned how to keep his personal throughts secret -- an exceptionally rare mental gift on the red planet.
He learned that "sak" means jump; that a "drogar" is a crack marksman and "gorthan-jur!" is a warning of impending murder. Put together, the words translated to something like "Jump, or this gunslinger will ring your neck!" Having figured out that Dotar Laj the drogar had truly threatened his life in the plaza, Carter next learned that the ruffian died from the blow to his chin.
"Why?" John Carter asked, when Tars Tarkas handed him two bundles, which proved to be the arms, ornaments, and the full accouterments of a green warrior.
"Dotar" and "dead" were the only intelligible words in Tars Tarkas' fast flowing reply, but from that the captive realized that he had inherited the dead drogar's leather body harness, woolen cape, swords, pistol and sandals, as well as a scanty wisp of an animal hair loinclout. Tars Tarkas had the cape cut into three warm mantles for Carter's used during the freezing Martian nights. The same tailoress, a young green female attached to the retinue of the green leaders, also remodeled the dead man's other trappings to fit the white man's lesser proportions.
Much happened to John Carter at Korad, the place of his first residence on Mars. What can be said in summary is that Sola, the girl sent by Tars Tarkas, instructed him in the language and customs of her people, the semi-nomadic Tharks of Barsoom's southern deserts. Besides learning the every day vocabulary of the Tharks, he also questioned his teacher and others in order to pick up the more complex Martinan figures of speech. Sola revealed that the ruined city of Korad had been built by small, highly evolved beings, but not until he stumbled upon a few ancient reams of illustrated text did Carter know for certain that Korad was once inhabitated by beings who looked very much like himself.
One day a green rider drove his mount furiously into the ruins, yelling at the top of his voice and gesticulating wildly at the sky. The effect upon the giant nomads encamping among the buildings was phenomenal. In a few moments the entire company of Tharks was nowhere to be seen. Only a dozen or so of the lowest ranking giants remained in the streets. And once they had hidden all the group's animals, extinguished its fires, and covered every trace of recent habitaton, they too disappeared from view.
Sola directed John Carter seek shelter with her behind a pile of fallen stones on a roof top. From that hidden vantage point they watched and waited. Sola pointed at the northern sky. A huge silver craft, flying low, appeared from below the horizon. Following it came several more, until twenty of the vessels sailed slowly and majestically over the broken walls of ancient Korad.
John Carter watched as the strange vessels lingered, almost motionless, over the northern quarter of the ruins. A few of the smallest craft began flitting back and forth among the larger ships. As best the Earthman could determine, the small flyers were shuttling man and material back and forth between the other ships. Then without warning the green Martian warriors fired a terrific rifle volley from the windows of buildings facing the preoccupied crewmen. Some of the firearms thus employed were double the size of a normal rifle. The withering hail of missles from these big guns punched gaping holes in several of the airships and they began to spin down out of control. The broken craft did not plummet from the skies like stones; rather, they lost bouyancy over a space of several seconds and then took a full minute to reach the ground, crash and burn. In the meanwhile, the precision fire from the ground never diminished.
One by one, however, a handful of the crippled ships managed to dip back below the horizon, until only one barely moving craft was left sight. This had received the brunt of the Thark fire and was drifting to the ground, seemingly unmanned. It soon became evident that she would strike the base of a building not far south of John Carter's position, and as he watched the progress of the ship's descent, he saw a number of green riders gallop out to meet the falling hulk.
As the great injured craft settled in at the bottom of the building, the Tharks threw out grappling hooks, pulled it to the ground and swarmed on board. The Earthman watched them examining the dead crew, and presently a party of the green appeared from below the deck, dragging a little figure among them. The creature was considerably less than half as tall as the green Martian warriors, and Captain Carter saw that it walked erect upon two legs.
While these events were transpiring the remainder of the Tharks were pouring into the streets to witness the looting of the fallen airships. Tons of salvaged material had been hauled into the plaza when the Virginian got there. Most of it consisted of hunks of twisted metal and other useless junk. But then he saw a wagon full of corpses being unloaded and stripped. He ventured forth for a closer look.
"They are like Earth people!" John Carter exclaimed in English.
At that moment one of the supposedly dead bodies lifted its eyeless head a little and let out a ghastly groan: The Princess -- save -- her -- from -- barbarians!"
The astonshed outlander had no chance to question the poor red-skinned fellow. He was not at all sure he'd heard the expiring stranger's word's correctly, and even if he had, they might have been nothing more than that suffering soul's dying delusion.
CHAPTER 4: "DEJAH THORIS"
Among the various possessions John Carter inherited from the green man he had killed was a calot, or Martian watchdog. It was alloted to him by Tars Tarkas, probably more as a means to prevent his escape than as a pet. The Martian calot is a vicious creature, but this one was fairly intelligent and the Earthman soon won its loyalty by treating the animal with simple acts of kindness, something a typical Thark would never imagine doing. Woola, as the calot was called, responded to telepathic commands and his new master used that peculiar connection to summon or restrain the ugly, eight-legged beast. With the calot at his side John Carter made his way to the great open audience hall at the north end of the central plaza. There he found the chieftains of the Thark band gathered together and discussing the proper division of the spoils that were still being hauled in from the downed airships.
The chieftains were just then dividing up among themselves the more valuable loot, which consisted in arms, ammunition, silks, furs, jewels, strangely inscribed vessels, and a quantity of solid foods and liquids, including many casks of purified drinking water. The only items of booty that John Carter felt no shame in appropriating for his own use were a few small printed books which the illiterate Tharks had thrown upon a rubbish heap. These the captive inserted into the leather pouch attached to his sword belt. He hoped one day to fathom the exotic written language of the unfamiliar red men.
With Woola close at his heels, the white man continued wandering about the plaza, attempting to learn something more about the race of red Martians whose looted property the Tharks had tossed into a hundred heterogeneous piles. Then Sola found him and remarked rather casually that one of the red race had been taken alive. Before John Carter could respond he caught a glimpse of a throng of green warriors roughly dragging the prisoner from the battle craft to the podium of the audience hall. He broke off his conversation with the green girl and pushed his way through the crowd of giants, in order to get a decent view of the new captive.
The sight which met his eyes sent pangs of sympathy through the soul of the battle hardened veteran. On the podium, surrounded by contemptuous Thark guards, stood a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to an earthly women, save for the vivid red pigment of her flawless skin. Her features were the model of perfection -- her eyes large and lustrous and her flowing hair a lustrous coal black enhancement to her remarkable beauty. She was as destitute of clothes as the ever nude green Martians; nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure. Her lack of concealing garments appeared to cause the girl no embarrassment, however; she stood among her captors with head held high, displaying a haughty indifference to the cruel jests of the green barbarians. At first she did not see the Earthman standing there, half hidden by the tall olive-hued crowd, but finally her searching gaze met his and her eyes widened with surprise.
Bronzed by constant exposure to the sun, and dressed as he was in the harness of a Martian warrior, the beautiful prisoner mistook him for a member of her own race. She stared at the man with pleading intensity and made a number of slight hand signs which were beyond his comprehension. A moment passed and John Carter could do nothing other than push a little closer to her through the concourse of riotous brutes. The young woman repeated the subtle sign language, but when the Earthman still did not respond, her look of hope faded into one of disappointment and dejection. She then averted her eyes and ignored him altogether.
Dejah Thoris had not yet recovered from the shock of watching so many brave sons and daughters of Helium die on board the Haldar when the monstrous Thark dragoons thrust her roughly before the crowd in Korad. A true daughter of bloody Mars, she had witnessed death and destruction before, but never on the scale of the disaster which had just occurred. At least half the expedition fleet was in ruins and all of the ships that had escaped were terribly undermanned and critically damaged. A mandatory radio blackout in the region surrounding Zodanga precluded wireless distress signals. There was little chance of the survivors reaching safety. She only held back her tears by a force of will that refused the Tharks the pleasure of seeing her suffer.
For a brief moment her hopes were raised. She thought she saw a countryman amid the unruly swarm of onlookers. But he must have been a gun-running panthan. He turned pale with cowardly recoil and did not lift a finger to help her. Focusing her attention upon the more consequential barbarians in the throng, she caught the drift of what they were saying -- She would be carried to the capital city of Thark, where her last agonies at the Great Games would be offered for the enjoyment of their king, Tal Hajus. The most dignified looking and highly ornimented of these cheifs then approached her and the raucous crowd quieted down considerably.
"Who are you and what means this trespassing over our ancestral lands?" the Thark leader asked, addressing the prisoner.
"I am Princess Dejah Thoris, daughter of Mors Kajak, Jed of [[Greater=Lesser]] Helium. Our ships are on a purely scientific research mission. We are recharting the air currents and taking atmospheric density tests. We came to this desereted unclaimed place, unprepared for battle, to resupply our ships and map the region. The work we are doing is in the interest of all Barsoomians: our scientific work ensures that there is sufficient air and water to support your people as well as ours. Although you do nothing to help us and much to hinder us, we labor constantly just to keep you, [[ourtselves= ourselves]] and all the other nations alive. You may demonstrate your martial honor and civil justice by restoring me to my people as soon as possible. Pay homage to all your great ancestors by joining with us in the salvation of our dying planet. As the grand-daughter of the greatest and mightiest of the red jeddaks, I have the authority to pardon your recent manslaughter and also to guarantee your soverign rights by treaty, this very day. Will you release me and relay my proposal to your Jeddak, Tal Hajus? What possible reason could you [[hace=have]] to refuse? Why must you always fight us?"
Just then a young chieftain leaped up to the podium. Downing the girl with a powerful rap to the head, he placed a foot upon her lower abdomen and turning toward the assembled giants yelled out, "Because we, not puny red cowards, are the superior race!" The entire crowd, save for two or three of the most intelligent elders, broke into peals of horrid, mirthless laughter. The jeering cry of "Sojat Azad is right! Sojat Azad is right!" rang through the ancient streets of Korad.
There was more one individual in the crowd who was not laughing. Springing upward, this bronzed man struck the menacing Thark full in the face. A totally surprised Sojat Azad fell back upon his four lower limbs and was in no position to commence a sword fight. Instead, the green ruffian attempted to draw a loaded pistol from his belt. This cowardly move the attacker thwarted with an instantaneous blow to the chest. The attacker's calot also joined the fight and in another moment the green man was dead.
Dejah Thoris witnessed the entire thirty second struggle from only inches away, but none of it made any sense to her. Into the silence that followed she blurted out a sardonic rhetorical question:
"Who is this strange pale man who wears the metal of Thark? -- a Zorian gun-runner? -- or a Zodangan traitor? or perhaps merely a dolt who risks his life for no reason?"
CHAPTER 5: "SENTENCE OF DOOM"
The inclinations and motivations of the green men of Mars pass all human logic. Had it been not for the chance happening of some fighting breaking out at the other end of the plaza, the comrades of the dead Sojat Azad might have delighted themselves in tearing John Carter apart, bone by bone, then and there. But the uproar of a conflict between warriors is irresistibly attractive to the giant barbarians. The better part of the crowd turned their attention to the new brawl and no Thark who remained nearby interfered with the Earthman on the podium. Even Tars Tarkas sauntered off to investigate the new commotion, leaving the human captives practically unrestrained. Only a handful of disinterested guards continued to watch the two smaller beings.
"I witnessed the destruction of your airships," said John Carter as he offered a piece of cloth to staunch the flow of blood from her nostrils. "It was a contemptible ambush upon peaceful visitors and am sorry to have watched it. When I saw him strike you I could stand no more."
The red maiden rose to her feet, straightened her disheveled hair and wiped the remainder of the blood from her face. Then Dejah Thoris eyed the stranger intently.
"Why did you do it?" she asked. "You ignored my signal when first I saw you! And now you risk your life and kill one of your companions for reasons I cannot understand. What strange manner of man are you, who lives among the green barbarians and wears their vile insignia? Your form is that of my race, while your color is pallid and your speech is as inapt as that of a hatchling. Tell me, are you human, or are you -- are you something else?"
"It is a strange tale," Captain Carter replied. "I can hardly believe it myself. But know that I would be your friend, and your servant if you will allow that. We are both held here against our wills and it seems that will continue for a while at least."
"So you are also their prisoner, even though you bear arms and the regalia of a Tharkian warrior? What is your name? Where your country?"
"My name is John Carter, and I claim Virginia as my home. Whether you can believe it or not, I come from that blue star which shines brightly even after sunrise. Why I am permitted to carry the weapons of the Thark I killed a few days ago I do not know. But the leader of these giants has extended me unusual trust and also what passes here for friendship."
Their conversation was interrupted by one of the guards who had overheard what they were saying. With a few grunts he indicated that the dead one's arms, accouterments and ornaments now belonged to John Carter. A young Thark female stripped him, bundled the belongings and then dragged away the lifeless body, leaving a trail of his blood behind her. A few yards away Sola sat with John Carter's calot watching. The Earthman half smiled when he caught a few of her thoughts. She was already calculating how to trim down Sojat Azad's harness to human size.
The two humans noticed that Tars Tarkas had returned. His eyes rested upon them in a most quizzical manner. Finally he addressed the Earthman.
"I see you have found one of your own size with whom you can speak the tongue of Barsoom. The red women are talkative. She almost had me convinced that we should help them make new air and water. Hah! Let her carry her pleas to Tal Hajus herself!"
"You have just slain our youngest chieftain," he continued. "We must offer an account of your actions to my master, Jed Lorquas Ptomel, and if he wills it, also an account to his master, Jeddak Tal Hajus. In the meanwhile, Dotar Sojat, you have made yourself a chieftain among the Thark. Chieftains protect their retinues and the horde." Then, glancing at Dejah Thoris, he added, "and it seems you have just added one more to your retinue!"
The required interview with Lorquas Ptomel, Jed among the Tharks of Barsoom, produced no change in their situation. Tars Tarkas made preparations to transfer the two captives to the far off city of Thark, where Tal Hajus would determine their ultimate lot. Before the journey commenced John Carter asserted his new authority and assigned Sola to watch over Dejah Thoris. His repeated acts of kindness in her behalf had won him Sola's loyality, while behavior modled by the red princess taught the green girl what it meant to be a friend.
After Tars Tarkas and his company arrived at the ancient metropolis of Thark the green man came close, on several occasions, to freeing John Carter entirely. It [[has=had]] become obvious to the giant warrior that the Earthman would find a way to escape, sooner or later, and when that day came the captor's life would be worth no more than his former captive's. But the Thark's sense of loyality to his Jeddak prevailed and he eventually conducted the humans to the audience chamber of Tal Hajus, Jeddak of all the Thark hordes. And so Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and John Carter, gentleman of Virginia, followed by the faithful Woola, passed into the palace and throne room, ready to learn their fate.
"O mighty Tal Hajus," began Tars Tarkas, after the traditional tokens of subjection had been rendered, "I present to you these two little captives -- a princess of Helium who begs a treaty with Thark and a man of some similar race who slew the chieftain Sojat Azad, in personal combat, for the sake of this girl."
The floor of the throne room was thronged with green chieftains, but upon seeing the princess Tal Hajus dismissed them all with a wave of his hand.
"Leave us, Tars Tarkas. Take the strange man and his calot away. I will see to his judgment later. If Helium seeks intercourse and alliance with the green men, I will consumate it here, after I speak with this princess -- alone!"
The one who issued these commands was the most hideous beast the red girl had ever put her eyes upon. He had all the cruel, terrible features of the green warriors, but accentuated by signs of animal passions exceeding those of the usual Thark. His great protruding eyes gloated upon the lines of her beautiful figure as his dissolute mind ejaculated forth a stream of insults and lewd insinuations.
"Princess of Helium, eh? Know you not that treaties among our hordes last only so long as a single battle campaign? Know you not that in our alliances the jeds exchange their long-swords, their necklaces, and their females? Oh yes, I will give you a treaty, Princess of Helium -- a treaty with ten days of pleasure to show you all the love I harbor for your race. Is your heart big enough to accommodate my great passion? I shall see. If not, word of that fact shall go forth to Tardos Mors, that he may grovel upon the ground in the agony of his sorrow. Open a place within your heart now to contain what I have to implant there and I will hold back my more blistering passion until tomorrow. Disappoint me and my torture of your red race will commence tonight. Either way, thou art Tal Hajus'; come join me in my furs and silks, wench!"
CHAPTER 6: "KEY OF DEATH"
Some Barsoomian scientists speculate that the green race is a product of devolution, that in time will degrade to the equivalent of calots, then to plant men and finally become worms. It is an interesting theory but it certainly does not take into account transformations such as the one wrought in the heart and mind of the green girl Sola, during the time she spent with John Carter and Dejah Thoris. A few of the green race have a capacity for loyalty; fewer still learn the rudiments of friendship. But until the telling of the story of Sola, daughter of Tars Tarkas, no Barsoomian would have imagined that green Martians possess the ability to love. And even those who know something about her might never guess that she possessed the virtue of modesty. She herself once asked that her role in Captain Carter's adventures not be recounted in any great detail. But the reader cannot hear the story of Dejah Thoris of Helium without also hearing something more of the story of Sola of Thark.
While Dejah Thoris was yet in the throne chamber, listening to the crude threats of Jeddak Tal Hajus, John Carter was being led off to prison -- or so it appeared to those departing courtiers who saw Tars Tarkas place the outlander in chains. But after the other Tharks, following their jeddak's orders, had left the entrance hall and locked its great sorapus door to the outer palace, Tars Tarkas lingered for a couple of minutes in the deserted hallway. Here it was that visitors to the throne room temporarily hung their firearms and other things on stout metal hooks and rings set in the stone wall. The giant stationed Woola near the throne room door, and padlocked the Earthman's chains to one of the steel rings. Then the Thark high chieftain produced a large key from his pocket pouch and let himself out through the sorapus door, re-locking it behind him as he left
During those short two minutes the green female Sola was also busily employed outside the palace walls. Since all Thark warriors recognize the metal of Tars Tarkas, none of the giants paid attention to the girl who wore his insignia when she brought three brawny thoat steeds to the courtyard outside of Tal Hajus' living quarters at the royal palace. All the actions of the green leader and his daughter were performed with the greatest speed and with all possible secrecy, so John Carter's only clue to the intrigue underway was Tars Tarkas' seeming stupidity in failing to appropriate his weapons -- that, and also something the green giant whispered in the chained man's ear before he left: "Farewell, John Carter; you are the only man on Barsoom I've ever liked!"
John Carter cursed the fact that he had not learned enough of the Barsoomian language to understand all of the special phraseology employed by Martian royals when they converse together. Chained to the wall, only yards away from the throne room, he could hear snatches of the conversation going on between the jeddak and the princess. He could also catch the occasional thoughts of Tal Hajus but had difficulty making any sense of them. Then the conversation ceased, the meanings came together in his mind and he understood.
At that same moment a shrill scream echoed from the throne room -- the scream of the Princess of Helium!
"Woola!" cried John Carter. "Woola! Kill the green man, Go! Kill! Kill!"
In an instant the huge calot sprang to its many feet and bounded through the open throne room doorway. A mixture of vivid telepathic images pierced Carter's brain. In his mind's eye he could see Dejah Thoris recoiling from the giant's six-limbed embrace. He also received an impression of Woola, tusks ready for the kill, dashing the bellowing jeddak to the floor.
The Earthman's mighty alien muscles strained at his shackles. The foot clasps snapped open but the steel wristbands withstood his effort. Then one of those also snapped, leaving him flatfooted on the floor and attached to the wall by a single chain. His short sword and other things were piled on the floor only inches away. John Carter stretched out one foot with all his strength. He hooked a toe under his sword belt and kicked the long-sword into his waiting free hand.
Listening to female screams emanating from the chambers of their jeddak was a daily routine for the palace guards, so they paid no attention to Dejah Thoris' shriek of pain. But shortly thereafter they all heard the echoing cry of Tal Hajus and that reverberation sent them scurrying off in a pack to the throne room. For some unexplained reason the door's lock was jammed and the guards wasted precious time hauling over a large table to use as a battering ram. Then, in entering through the broken door they were puzzled to see John Carter at the other end of the hall, sword in hand, but with one wrist chained to the wall. The foremost guard hesitated, wary of a possible trick. However, they were twenty against one. The green swordsmen proceeded to rush forward with horrible curses on their lips.
The commotion in the adjoining hallway caught the calot's attention and he wheeled about to look for trouble. His master's voice and thoughts were calling out for him. Dejah Thoris followed the leaping calot out through the one open door she could see, slowing only for a second to pull a dagger from the fallen Jeddak's gold-encrusted harness. He appeared to be dead but she did not tarry to make certain. In the spacious hallway beyond the open door, her senses were bombarded with a wild intermixture of sights and sounds. The Jasoomian was hanging from the wall, hacking at a padlock and chains with his long-sword and shouting to Woola. The unrestrained roaring calot was leaping onto the extended swords of nearly two dozen palace guards at the far end of the hall. And those same green giants were yelling, cursing and knocking one another over, as all of them tried at once to squeeze through an entrance space built by a race half their height!
Many of the women of Mars are trained for battle in their younger years, but the royal daughters of Helium are taught how to command the armed fighters of the empire, not how to fend off a dozen attacking swordsmen at a time. Still, the first thing Dejah Thoris did was to pull Captain Carter's short sword from its scabbard and ready herself for the inevitable onrush. Upon seeing that the Earthman was still struggling to free one manacled wrist, a sudden idea came to her.
"John Carter! This dagger will help!"
The girl took a step backwards and handed him the knife she had taken from the fallen Tal Hajus. Here was a deadly key indeed; its razor-sharp blade and keen point were fashioned from the highest grade of unbreakable Ptarthian steel.
"My radium pistol!" cried John Carter. "Can you use it?"
The Earthman's gunbelt was still hanging on the wall nearby, where Tars Tarkas had left it when the three of them went in for the audience with Tal Hajus. The pistol, however, was now missing and its holster was empty. In the gun's place was a brief note, written in blood on the retaining strap. Dejah Thoris tried to make sense of the crude inscription "Outside the double window, thoats to ride." The only green Barsoomian she knew of who could read and write, even a little, in the hieroglyphics of Helium was Sola of Thark. Dejah Thoris had spent the past few days instructing the curious girl in that particular skill.
"John Carter! There is no pistol here -- yet I have found hope. Sola has left you a message. If we can reach the double window in the throne room -- Oh please! You must open the lock!
CHAPTER 7: "The Old Lock Opens"
In the jargon of the green warriors, calots are referred to as "loin-rippers." The many-toothed, eight-legged Martian watchdog has sufficient power and deftness to leap to a giant's throat if need be, but Woola was cunning enough to charge under the tall guards' sword-points. Nor did he stop to savor the hot blood spurting from one gaping wound before hurling his piercing tusks and rending teeth upon the vitals of some other vulnerable victim. Such are the tactics of the trained Barsoomian war-hound and they can be incredibly effective in disrupting the coordinated efforts of a tightly grouped squad of infantry.
This unnerving attack completely unbalanced two of the palace watchmen, sending them crashing into the hallway walls on either side of the battered-down door. Woola's savage fury also forced several green swordsmen back upon their four lower limbs, an awkward position for maneuvering in closely confined spaces. Precious seconds were gained by the calot's delaying tactics and in those few seconds John Carter sprang open the wrist lock. His chains fell against the wall with a loud clank; he was free!
The Virginian felt a great desire to leap to the end of the hallway and measure swords with the green brutes. The few hours he had spent in practice fights among the chieftains at Korad convinced him that he could successfully take on two or more of the giants at one time, if they kept their pistols out of the fray and fought with blades alone. But there are times when retreat is a soldier's best choice and the Earthman felt no shame in backing away from such an uneven contest.
"Quickly, John Carter! To the double window in the throne room!" commanded the princess.
The bronzed swordsman sent a mental order to his watchdog, to fall back and join him. Gathering his scant possessions in one hand, he grasped Dejah Thoris by the other and they sped quickly from the entrance hall and back into the neighboring throne chamber. Tal Hajus still rested face down in a pool of his own blood. Beyond, high in the wall at the level of a green man's head, was a modern addition to the prehistoric architecture -- the Tharks of recent times had punched two overlapping holes in the plastered wall and had dressed the edges of the twin window with rough stone slabs. Beyond that he could see nothing but the jet black of an overcast Barsoomian night.
John Carter dodged around the monstrous obstacle and took the shortest path to the open window. Along the way the fleeing pair passed the two large torches that supplied the room with most of its illumination. These they knocked down, leaving only their smoldering embers and the eerie glow of a single radium lamp to light the huge chamber.
The charging guards followed, shouting the general alarm, only a few yards behind. The throne room was as still as a tomb and almost as dark. The green men slowed their pace, peering into the shadows. Upon sighting their fallen jeddak all but two of the squad formed a ring around the prone monster. While most of the guards were occupied in examining the motionless hulk on the floor, the other two swordsmen quckly searched behind the room's decayed tapestries. Then, from out of the darkness, Woola struck again!
The swift sharp strikes of John Carter's long-sword and Woola's fangs immediately sent the two searchers to the realm of their ancestors, covered in blood. In the shadows a series of events then transpired in such rapid succession as to defy any proper description. The two humans and the calot reached the huge open window even before the last of the guards ran into the room. The Earthman lifted the girl so that she could pull herself onto the window ledge, then stood with sword ready to meet onrushing foe.
Realizing that their prey was about to escape, one of the senior guards called for firearms. Guns were normally forbidden in those chambers and another minute's time was lost while the Tharks retrieved a loaded pistol from an anteroom. By then John Carter had turned and leaped to the broad stone ledge beside the red princess. When the gun-toting Thark took aim, all he saw were two pairs of sandals, disappearing from view into the night. Another guard hurled his short sword at the calot, but Woola dodged the missile and jumped up onto the vacant windowsill. The nearest green giant was by then within striking distance but his long-sword slashed down upon empty ersite. The calot too had disappeared!
It was late evening when Sola wrote the message on John Carter's pistol strap. She handed the gunbelt back to her father a short time before Tars Tarkas was summoned forth to exhibit his two human captives before the august presence of the Jeddak of Thark.
"Will this design succeed?" she questioned.
But the big warrior motioned the inquiring girl to be on her way. His only words to her came in a cryptic murmur: "Tell no one of tonight's events -- ever. Even the life of a jeddak must end, sooner or later. If you survive you will know what to do."
She departed the jeddak's residence without a backward glance and carried her father's dismissal orders out to the small retinue that had accompanied them into Thark. Then, taking with her three of the thoats they had brought to the palace, she circled behind the massive structure to the ancient city arboretum adjacent to the private courtyard of Tal Hajus. In a patch of rank undergrowth, untended for millennia, Sola concealed the mounts from the nearby pacing guards. Except for three armed sentinels there was not a person in sight. In the deepening gloom before the rising of the larger moon she watched and waited.
"How have I come to this?" she wondered. "A day ago, if I had been told all of this would be happening, I could not have believed it! What is going on in me? I do not want to be like the humans. I want to be -- I want to be, myself. And that is the only thing in the world that frightens me. A Thark is never afraid, but tonight I know what fear is, and I do not like it!"
This self-searching was such a new thing in her life that Sola did not even know what to call it. So she called it "fear." What she did know was that she had promised her father she would never speak of the night's events. All of Thark might call her a water-hearted traitor, but no green denizen of Barsoom would ever call her father that. Because -- nobody need ever know that she was truly the daughter of Tars Tarkas, the high chieftain who one day would rule all Thark in the place of the self-serving and ineffective Tal Hajus There! -- she had said it in her mind and therefore, sooner or later it must happen.
A sudden alarm summoned two of the armed sentries into the palace, but one remained behind at the courtyard gate. This was no time for a noisy face-to-face confrontation. There had to be some way to get past the lone guardsman quickly. The girl gathered her thoughts and then slapped one of the thoats on the flank, sending it galloping onto the circular avenue and past the startled warrior. He turned and pursued the speeding shadow down the roadway into the dark, overgrown woods. The unguarded courtyard gate stood wide open, allowing the girl and the steeds easy access. A half dozen heartbeats later a pair of small figures appeared in the double window far above. Sola positioned the two remaining thoats below the window and concentrated all of her thoughts into a single mental message.
"Hurry, John Carter -- warriors are coming. There is no time to waste!"
CHAPTER 8: "A Shot in the Dark"
From the days of her earliest memories Dejah Thoris had always felt most alive and electrified when in the face of grave danger. Barsoom is a dangerous place, of course, and her opportunities to feel that delicious thrill had not been meager. There had been a time, when her grandfather was yet Jed of Hastor, when the buoyancy tanks on his personal flyer had burst and the little craft spun down from the sky, out of control. She was only a hatchling then but she had understood the danger perfectly. Her mother held the babe in her protective arms, but little Dejah broke free and gazed on in wonder, as the ground seemed to be rushing up into the sky at her. The emergency containment balloon suddenly shot open, the diving craft slowed considerably and the crash was not one-tenth as bad as it could have been. The family survived. Little Dejah, sole heir to the the double star insignia of Tardos Mors, only cried when her mother said the esciting flyer ride was over.
"A strange time to be thinking of my mother!" the princess said aloud, but the Jasoomian did not answer.
There was something resembling a horizontal stone walkway attached to the palace wall outside of the window. What its original purpose might have been, John Carter could not imagine, but it was intricately carved and only offered a very unsure footing at best. It ran along several feet below the level of the window and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he managed to reach the narrow ledge, after having lowered Dejah Thoris down upon it by a strap from her own harness. A rare layer of clouds hid the later hour's starlight, but reflected back a dim glow from the bonfires kept burning all night at Thark's major street intersections. With only this faint light as a guide, the Earthman crept along the narrow shelf and waited for his eyes to become more accustomed to the dark. Then a heavy body dropped down from out of nowhere, right beside him!
"Stand aside, you idiot!" shouted an officer among the palace guards in the throne room. He pushed down the swordsman who had chased Woola through the window, jumped up upon the giant's lower back and pulled his own lanky olive-skinned body over the window sill. His great bulging eyes scanned the darkness for any sign of movement. There was a rustling in the trees below, at some distance from the window. The officer repeatedly fired the radium pistol blindly at the sound. He instantly heard the distinctive squealing of a thoat in great pain. He fired again.
The Earthman smelled the calot before he could see him. Then once again Woola nearly knocked John Carter from the precarious ledge. How the big creature managed to get around him, on a slippery stone path not quite so wide as his master's shoulders, the Virginia swordsman never understood. But by the time the green officer was firing the pistol, six feet above from the window, John Carter could make out the dim figures of Woola and Dejah Thoris, not far from him on the walkway. They were perfect targets for a Thark gunman!
Owing to the peculiar design of the Martian firearm cartridges, they do not explode in a loud concussion when fired in the dark. The shots the officer had popped off sped silently down into the darkness, with a couple of the bullets pierced two living bodies, far below. It was purely blind luck but the green shooter did some serious damage to the creatures. Unfortunately for him the recipients of his barrage were the courtyard sentry who was chasin the speeding thoat through the blackness of the old arboretum, and the thoat itself!
No sooner had the green officer hit the squealing thoat in the trees, then Captain Carter's calot began to rumble with the peculiar noise that passes for a warning growl among Martian watchdogs. Of course the growling gave away his position at once. A radium cartridge whistled past Woola's left ear, then another, even closer.
The shooter in the window had not yet seen John Carter, below him in the dark, and the Earthman knew he had but a second to act. With his short sword belt and scabbard fully extended, Carter whipped the belt assembly up into the space above his head and the metal scabbard clanked against the ersite windowsill, setting off a shower of sparks in the night. A split-second later the shooter plunged from the window to the ground with a wail of pain. Then again all was quiet.
"My God! what a lucky hit!" cried the bronzed swordsman, but somehow he knew that the officer had not fallen from the window as a result of the noisy scabbard. Something inexplicable had just occurred and the Earthman did not have time to ponder the sudden salvation. Facing outward from the wall he looked down and saw the dim outline of a lithe figure, mounted on a restless thoat, sixty feet below. Beside the rider and mount was a second steed with an empty saddle. Fifteen feet to his left, on the narrow ledge, crouched Dejah Thoris, short sword in hand, with the calot in front of her. Then John Carter glanced to his left. Twice that distance away, just emerging from the coal black shadows, were three more Thark swordsmen!
The Princess of Helium glanced once again at the courtyard so far off, under her feet. She measured the distance in her mind and tried to conceive of some way to reach the ground without critical injury. Surely Woola could jump that far safely. Perhaps, if she hung onto his back and he leaped off the ledge -- no, not in the dark. She surely would knocked off the beast. If her luck was bad, she might even land under his heavy body. There must be another way.
"John Carter! Can you jump down there with me in your --- Oh! look out!"
A pistol discharged directly above his head, sending its missile flying right through his wavy hair. A new marksman was in the window! Then, again, silence for many heartbeats.
Strange as it may sound, it was not until many days after the night's ordeal had passed, that John Carter and Dejah Thoris put together enough small clues to guess what it was that had saved them, there in the shadows of Tal Hajus' palace. After two green men had met their deaths at the window, it became obvious to both the humans that some exterior force was knocking down the most threatening members of the guard, before they could use their deadly firearms effectively. The most obvious answer, that occurred simultaneously to both the swordsman and the princess, was that Sola was using John Carter's missing gun to eliminate the dangerous attackers. Probably that exchange of thoughts was the first telepathic interchange between the young woman and the man. Subsequently, however, they discovered that they were both wrong in making this logical guess.
Although they could not see the source of their salvation, the two escapees were aware that the presence of Tal Hajus' warriors in the window above their heads had ceased to be so threatening. Soon, however, the whole area would be swarming with more Thark guardsmen. They had to reach the ground as quickly as possible. Once more the couple traded these common thoughts by the silent communication that so often passes between attuned minds on the red planet.
"Courage, Princess!" John Carter said aloud. But one glance into her beautiful, flashing eyes told the gentleman from Virginia that there was no fear in her.
CHAPTER 9: "Plummeting from the Ledge"
The only deity that Sola knew of was Issus, and that was simply a meaningless name to her -- some indescribable "thing" that would meet her at the end of her days. But if the green girl had known something more of the gods and their ways, she might have been swearing and cursing like a Capetown sailor! High above, and totally out of reach to her eager hands, the two humans were standing practically motionless on the side of the palace wall -- doing nothing. She had assumed that the man would jump down into the courtyard. There was a long rope in her thoat's saddlebag. He could take it, then leap back up to the ledge and use the line to help the red woman down to the ground. It was such a simple solution! But she dare not call out to them for fear of putting the thoats in danger. Already one of their number was lost. She could not risk losing another. Again and again the girl hurled her mental message to the little people. Why did they ignore her? Could Woola alone hear her thoughts? "Issus take them!"
Then there were the gunshots. Any one of them might have killed her or one of the mounts. It did not seem that the guards had yet seen them, and she knew that the human had, so the daughter of Tars Tarkas moved the beasts a short distance, into the deeper shadows, and continued to wait. Without warning a body toppled out of the window and came crashing into the courtyard, practically at her feet.
"What is this?" she asked rhetorically. "I've seen him before."
The green girl leaned over the side and peered down into the gloom. The lesser moon was just rising but there were clouds in the sky and the light in the place where she waited with the animals was scanty.
"Gormar," she said -- almost sighed. "He sat with me at the Great Games last year. Then he killed the Thurds -- what name? Oh, yes, 'Gormar Jal.' When a man takes me for his woman, a man like Gormar Jal would be as good as any. And now he is gathered to his fathers."
So it was that the green girl passed the time. Perhaps two minutes had already gone by since she had watched Dejah Thoris emerge from the window -- it was an eternity to the watcher.
"I know who shot Gormar Jal, but I cannot tell. Perhaps I shall never return to Thark. Perhaps I too will die before the little moon finishes it's way across the sky. This is a night unlike any other. What am I to do?"
Beyond the courtyard, beyond the place where the nearest two avenues met, in pitch black darkness, a lone rider watched the events transpiring along the palace walls with discerning attention. In his hands was a warm radium pistol.
"Your muscles can take you to the ground, John?" The girl asked. On Mars only family members call another by his first name, if he has more than one. But the Jasoomian's people observed different customs. It seem all right, given the fact they might die any moment.
"Yes, of course. If there were just a little more light, I think I could land in the tall red grass without breaking any bones --"
There was no time to continue the sentence. A reckless Thark made a successful leap along the ledge and towered over John Carter with two swords extended. There simply wasn't room enough for the Earthman to vault up to the green man's full height. Instead, the bronzed man slashed out with his long-sword, deflecting one thrust from above, and then another. Behind the attacker two more guards approached, bellowing like mad bulls -- sounding the highest level alarm. In the distance, both inside and outside of the palace, similar calls were being given, seemingly everywhere.
A well made Martian radium pistol, in the hands of an expert marksman, can hurl its cartridges accurately up to a range of half a mile, as distances are measured on Earth. Equipped with an automatic sighting device, the same gun in the hands of the same gunman, could blast fruit the size of apples in a leafy tree, five shots out of ten, at twice the distance. The pistol in Tars Tarkas' practiced upper right hand had no such sight, but he could aim his missiles just as closely and just as silently as if he were holding the finest Eoan cathode rifle. In fact, he had to be even more accurate, because there was insufficient light for his cartridges to explode upon impact. To be certain of a kill he had to hit the inside quarter of a green man's eyeball, and through that narrow space pierce the brain. With a shriek of pain, Tars Tarkas' third victim tumbled off the ledge and plummeted toward the courtyard below. Then he killed a fourth warrior in the window and watched him go whirling down, narrowly missing Dejah Thoris as he fell past the ledge.
As the giant guards pressed forward along the stone ledge, John Carter had been constantly working his way backwards to the spot where Dejah Thoris and the calot were waiting. Still the green men came. Carter's elbows were already touching Woola. All three retreated again, but their movements were brief ones. The three bodies had reached the end of the ornamental beam. There was no place left to go but downward.
To the front of them there was one more guard, and then an open space behind him of fifty feet -- and beyond that, probably warriors with firearms. The shouting in the distance was coming closer with every blink of the eye.
The nearest green swordsman was ten feet away. The calot growled viciously, but Carter purposely held him back. The Earthman glanced downward and his eye caught a glimpse of something -- something he must inspect more closely. But first the new attacker must be dealt with. Taking his long-sword in his hand with his thumb upon the pommel knob, Captain Carter hurled the weapon through the air and up into the warrior's heart. The guard fell upon the ledge and remained there gripping the stonework as the lifeblood spurted out of him in gushes, each one smaller than the last.
"Woola, jump down!" Dejah Thoris, clasp your arms around my neck -- from my back -- under the harness strap! Now, lock your feet together -- no, here, in the front of the groin."
Captain Carter looked again at the ornamental stone protrusions forty feet below the spot where the walkway ended at a turn in the wall. He removed his empty long-sword scabbard and formed the heavy sword-belt into a large leather loop. He looked down one more time to be certain where the calot had landed. Then he and the girl dropped over the edge, like a stone.
CHAPTER 10: "Lost In The Desert"
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 worried him.
"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 night.
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 peaceful one.
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."
CHAPTER 11: "The Princess Abducted!"
The last embers of the fire had died out, but under the moons of Mars two of the escapees continued to exchange words while the third, their guide, slept soundly in her silks and furs.
"We are hopelessly lost, Dator Sojat" said Dejah Thoris.
She lapsed back into calling him by his Barsoomian name. Despite their flight from Thark he wore the metal of a chieftain and she had sworn to remain his captive until they were safely under the protection of her grandfather. And, more reluctantly, she had also promised to avoid speaking of their personal relationship until that day of safety came.
"Well," he answered, "I know that I am lost. I keep hoping that soon you will recognize some landmark on the fringes of the vast red empire you speak of. But, perhaps you are right -- perhaps Helium will never know of our fate. I prefer to hope, however."
"Yet, despite the dangers and despite our slender chances, I am perfectly happy. I will be no happier on the day we reach Helium -- if that day ever comes. Old promises do not seem so important out here, do they, my chieftain?"
John Carter gazed at that perfect face in the moonlight. In his breast his heart swelled. Already he had told this daughter of ten thousand jeddaks that he would die in her service if need be. And that she was in this thoughts constantly -- in fact, their minds were coming so close as to share bits of communication now and then. The experience was new to him and he did not know what to do. So he told her that he no longer thought of her as being his captive at all.
"I suppose you've released other women as well -- back on Jasoom in your life that spanned centuries? Tell me, Captain Carter of Virginia, did you ever have one you did not release? Why does the blood rush to your cheeks? -- your color is as red as mine!"
The calot returned from a late evening hunt with a limp, slimy looking thing between his fangs -- breakfast, no doubt. The Earthman reached out to scratch Woola's ears but the beast settled down next to the red princess, nuzzling her thighs, almost to the point of embarrassment
"See!" she mocked. "Even Woola seeks the warmth of a woman when the night grows cold."
In his mind's eye the bronzed swordsman recalled vividly how the good beast had saved both their lives, not so many hours ago, in the fetid palace of Tal Hajus -- before they first exchanged unspoken thoughts on the ledge. Woola had fought for Dejah Thoris and...
"Do not be angry," Carter begged, as he ran across the soft yellow moss after the girl. She had suddenly bolted, turned her back on him and started off.
"I am a fighting man, Dejah Thoris. If you were asking whether I was married back on Earth, the answer is no. What more can I say -- or tell you in my unguarded thoughts? You know already how poor I am with clever speech and -- and lovemaking."
His stammering words only seemed to make matters worse. The red maiden ignored his pleas altogether and found a sleeping spot beside the snoring Sola. John Carter sighed. Thought transference was so unpredictable! But perhaps things would be better in the morning.
A Martian watchdog will remain at his posted position until overcome by death from thirst and starvation, so obedient are these creatures to the one who is their master. But a calot who has several masters can act rather unpredictably. Probably Sola should have realized this, but even she misjudged the depth of Woola's devotion to the humans. Before retiring for the night the green girl gave the watchdog explicit orders to stand guard until dawn. On the other hand, John Carter and Dejah Thoris had rewarded the calot with so much affectionate attention for his successful hunting, that Woola put the duty of securing food above his assigned duty of guarding the camp. The plan the three agreed to had been for each of the escapees to accompany Woola in standing guard for part of the night, but Dejah Thoris' emotional altercation with the swordsman disrupted this scheme. John Carter stood a long, double-watch and was dozing two hours before sunrise, when Sola awoke. The first thing she noticed was that Woola and the princess were gone!
"Perhaps she is out hunting with Woola -- or tending to the thoat," muttered the green girl. "But, no her dagger is here where Dejah Thoris slept. Why would she leave that behind?"
Sola had barely awakened John Carter when the calot returned to the camp. He was yelping and jumping about in a most excited sort of way.
"Dotar Sojat!" The calot has caught a scent of something dangerous and I cannot find the princess. I think something terrible has happened!"
The white apes of Barsoom are not exactly what the people of Earth call "apes." Certainly no Martian would claim the abominable brutes as their remote ancestors. Nevertheless these creatures look and act something like the sub-human primates of John Carter's planet. In form they are rather like the six-limbed green men, but not as lanky and certainly not as intelligent. They haunt the age-old ruins of Mars, though seldom in large groups and almost never as distinct families. They build nothing, except for temporary nests of vegetation and they make nothing, save for an occasional club or sharp-edged stone. In times of cold they will drape skins, furs, even scavenged cloth, upon their frames, but generally they wear nothing. Their language consists of little more than grunts and the telepathic signaling of base appetites.
Each male white ape has a distinctive mating cry, which doubles as his name. "Grombo!" was the lust call of the ten-foot ape that studied the campsite from out of the dense shadows of the night.
Grombo had watched the camp all through the long night. Twice he had seen the calot come and go. Each time he stealthily adjusted his position, so as to always remain upwind of the watchdog and, as much as possible, upwind of the thoat as well. Grombo's tactics worked well and his observation spots remained undetected. Most of the night had already passed when his opportunity finally came. The calot wandered off and the little male was still. The time had come. The creature was in the camp in a matter of seconds. He stepped through the fire ashes and loomed above the sleeping red girl like some hideous apparition.
Dejah Thoris woke with a start. Still half asleep, she could not make out the features of the tall form that stood above her. Suddenly she recalled that it must be time for her to stand watch. She should have been up already. The Jasoomian had come to call her to duty. -- But she was dead wrong.
Before she could cry out the beast choked her voice with a rough hand. Three others held her tight, to prevent the slightest movement. Across the starlit stretches of the dead sea bottom, the giant beast lumbered away with the overwhelmed princess. Not a sound had he made. Nor did stop to enjoy his prize until he had put the distance of four hours' travel between himself and the campsite.
CHAPTER 12: "City of the Deadly Mist"
Three times John Carter and Woola had gone searching into the night, but had come back empty-handed. The calot kept drawing him to three different spots where the beast had located some strong scent, but each time the scent-trail led back to the campsite. In the brief red-gray moments preceding dawn Sola made an important discovery, however.
"Look here, John Carter, in the fireplace, two footprints!" A white ape was here while I slept, only ten sofads away."
As the light grew brighter John Carter and Sola studied the tracks of Dejah Thoris' abductor. They traced flecks of ash and barely percepitible indentations in the spongy moss from the place the princess had been sleeping, but after a few yards all trace of the faint trail disappeared. The green girl kept returning to the fire ashes. She studied the imprints intently from all angles of view. At last she announced a second discovery.
"Look how the toe marks are so much deeper at their ends, and how both foot marks point inward. The ape's feet are deformed and very stiff. He is either very very old, or..."
"Or what?" demanded the Earthman, almost frantically. "What is it you are thinking, for God's sake!"
"An inhabitant of Go-La-Ra, the ancient city of the deadly mist!" One of those wall paintings you so admired back at Korad tells the story. It was an old story even when the hollows of the land were still filled with water. There was a once-great city of the white race -- a city whose inhabitants suddenly turned to stone."
"A legend?" queried the Earthman, but Sola could only wave her head in ignorance.
"The place exists, but I know almost nothing of the story. Twice I have been in caravans that have passed the site. We never stopped to look at the ruins and the only landmark I recall are three gray pinnacles standing in a row, a short distance west of the city. I think the place may be near here."
"But why do you think the ape came from there?" questioned Captain Carter.
"Because the mists turn the creatures who live there to stone. Some are more immune than others; they live long lives before they become so stiff they can no longer move about very well. Some faster animals catches them and its over. I have seen their tracks and eaten their tough bodies. What I see in the footprints here reminds me of that time. There were many ape tracks like this one."
The two got into there first argument then. Sola expected to go with the man in search of what had happened to their companion, but Carter commanded her to stay, because Dejah Thoris might escape and find her way back to the camp. It was important that one of them remain there for a while.
"Then at least take Woola with you!" pleaded the girl. "You cannot track an invisible trail across these mossy wastelands. You need the calot."
John Carter's commands won out in the end, of course. He would go, while Sola and the watchdog remained at the campsite, but only after the Earthman made certain he could follow the trail of the abducted princess.
"Bring Woola the silks she slept in last night, Sola," he commanded.
The calot found the missing girl's scent at once, even though it seemed her feet never touched the ground during the kidnapping. The older unmarried females among the red race are wont to apply a strong, natural perfume to their neck and wrists, and since they take this oder from the recesses of their own flesh, each woman's perfume is unique. On a still day such a pungent scent might waft in the air for hours -- and there had not been a trace of a breeze since well before sunrise.
The Earthman mounted the thoat and prepared to ride off in the direction of the invisible trail the calot had pointed out. Though not such a wonderful tracker as a Martian watchdog, the green men's thoats were well able to follow a fresh spoor. But the rider's beast had not gone eight steps when Sola ran alongside and called up to him.
"John Carter -- if you find the pinnacles, at their base is a yellow oil that will give you some protection from the deadly mists -- or so I was told by a warrior who hunted our food both times we camped near Go-La-Ra. Seek out the yellow substance. Spread it on your skin, inside your mouth and in your nostrils. And come back soon with my friend, Dejah Thoris!"
"I will do my best, dear Sola, good-bye now. Keep Woola close by. I left the other short sword by my furs and silks."
As he rode off, her last words were, "Good-bye, thou white chieftain of Thark; I love her also!"
The sun had climbed to one quarter the distance from horizon to zenith before John Carter stopped to relax his mount. The thoat had moved along at a good speed, following an arrow-straight path northward. He had every reason to believe that he was on the right trail, but nothing along the way confirmed that notion until he caught sight of a shiny object on the dead sea bottom. While the panting mount recuperated, the bronzed swordsman walked back along the prints the thoat had left in the moss. Bending over to inspect the glittering thing, his heart began to race. It was a hair-clip belonging to the red princess!
Remounting his great charger, the Earthman was tempted to force the poor thoat into a gallop, but he decided to proceed at a more measured pace. Steed and rider had not gone far when the unmistakable silhouette of three pinnacles broke the horizon. Go-La-Ra could not be far away!
With the face of Dejah Thoris ever in his mind, John Carter proceeded to the three stone forms. He cursed his laxity, in having fallen asleep instead of awakening her according the plan. He had been wrong to let her retire, still angry with him and the Virginian felt terribly responsible for all that had happened afterward. He would find her, if it were the last thing he ever did in his long long life!
Past the pinnacles, the land rose in a series of benches until, finally, the great metropolis that had once stood on the banks of a sea long vanished, spread out before his view. The ruins were majestic -- much older and finer than those of Korad or Thark, but the Earthman had no time to gaze on in wonder. Somewhere near at hand was the woman he loved!
CHAPTER 13: "INTO GO-LA-RA"
It was a long time before the princess could take a full breath of air, so tightly did the foul creature hold her to his hairy chest. Twice she passed out and it was only after the sun had risen that she overcame the apprehension that she might die of suffocation at any moment. Finally the huge ape slowed his pace and allowed her body to dangle freely from his two middle limbs. Dejah Thoris made no attempt to struggle then -- she could scarcely feel her deadened limbs, let alone move them. All the while she silently chanted meaningless sounds -- trying to drown out the graphic, rapacious telepathic thoughts that the ape's brain conveyed continually, throughout her seemingly endless nightmare in his arms.
During that entire horrible flight across the wastelands she only felt her usual exhilaration in the face of danger one time. Not long after sunrise the monster cast the girl roughly upon the ground and took off after a sluggish lizard. During that few moments of relative freedom she frantically sought some means of escape. But there was no chance. The ape returned, spitting out crushed reptile bones and she was soon back in that same loathsome embrace, moving quickly over the dead sea bottom.
In the shadow of the three pinnacles John Carter bade farewell to his stalwart thoat. The animal had to immunity to the dangerous vapors that already were filling the air and the Earthman had no idea how long he would have to spend searching the vast ruins. He could not afford to have the mount immobilized by the mist, so, knowing the beast would return to Sola, he sent it on its way.
The Virginian did not have to search far to locate the protective substance the green girl had spoken of. A large open cistern of the oil was built into the inner walls of a ceremonial stone arch of vast proportions and great antiquity. The surface of the stuff was covered with a layer of dust and the decayed remains of some small animals, but beneath this detritus many gallons of the amber oil still remained within the stone tank. As Sola had instructed, John Carter covered his body with yellow oil. Then he made his way across the open space to the old sea level benches and began his climb up into the city. Along the way he saw what he was sure was another of the abducted maiden's hair-clips, but the thing had fallen into a long sinuous fissure and was beyond his reach. Noxious purple fumes rose from the fracture and he had to block his nose and eyes in order to pass through the pungent, suffocating atmosphere.
Entering into the city John Carter was struck by the fact that it possessed no great encircling walls. None of the buildings had the defensive, castle-like architecture so typical of the other two ruined metropolises he had visited. Everywhere he looked he saw evidence of the effects of the purple mist. The petrified remains of hundreds of thousands of insects, birds, and small animals littered the ground and the interiors of the prehistoric buildings. The smaller bodies crunched beneath his step and his footprints were added to the multitude of animal trails that ran through the place. It was while stopping to examine the stony body of a still living, but very slow moving, little flightless bird that he caught a fragment of the princess's thoughts. She could not be far off!
Dejah Thoris saw the many petrified creatures that filled the ruined city. but it was only later that she connected the strange remains with the legends of Go-La-Ra. All of her attention was focused on her hairy captor, who at last had found a suitable resting place among the ruins. She did not have to ponder long to guess what the ape's repetitive cry, "Grom-bo!" betokened.
The Virginian found the long-sword quite by accident. He had climbed up the circular ramp that ran around a tall, tower-like structure, to gain enough height to look out over the city for some sign of the missing maiden. There in the middle of the path, almost at the top, was the gray body of a man pierced by an elegant sword of great antiquity. He had seen a few of these blades among the Tharks, who called them "Orovarian steel." The long-sword was of sturdy construction with an excellent balance, almost as large as the weapon he had left behind in the palace at Thark. With a few tugs the weapon came loose from the petrified body and he appropriated it for his own use.
From the top of the tower Captain Carter saw a number of the weird, living creatures who were somewhat immune to the deadly mist, including two white apes. These two creatures were some distance away and were entering the dead city by practically the same route as he had, so Carter did not assume that either of them were the monster he had been tracking. Still, he watched their movements for a few moments and became convinced they were following a path down the middle of one broad boulevard that the huge white creatures commonly used in moving about the vast metropolis.
Back at ground level, John Carter followed the same avenue as he had seen the apes using, only he kept to the edge of it so as not to be too easily seen himself. Several times he observed stony, slow moving little vertebrates being captured and eaten by younger looking, more nimble animals. He was beginning to fear that a similar fate might befall the Princess of Helium, if he could not find her very quickly. He continued to project telepathetic messages, as best he knew how, but no human answer came to him. At last he threw caution to the winds and began to shout her name. His own echoes returned to his haunt him: "Dejah Thoris! Dejah Thoris!"
Suddenly Carter halted, grasping his newly discovered long-sword tightly; he saw armed men ahead of him!
Grombo must have received some weird satisfaction in tormenting his new victim. He had thrown the naked girl down upon the moss-covered floor of a little roofless structure and taking turns with his four hands in poking and clawing various parts of her all too vulnerable body. He seemed to particularly enjoy roughly thrusting one finger into the hair under her armpits, forcing screams of pain from the distressed red princess. Then the beast climbed atop her, holding Dejah Thoris by her wrists and ankles, leaving two groping hands still free to continue his libidinous assault.
The Earthman halted his calling in mid syllable. Twenty grim faced spearmen blocked his way at the spot where the avenue he had been following made an abrupt turn. The fighting man struck a defensive posture and thrust out his sword, ready for a bloody encounter. Then, he realized that against warriors such as these, the mighty Orovarian blade was useless!
Grombo's pernicious thoughts poured into her brain, no matter how much Dejah Thoris tried to block them from her consciousness. She struggled, but the ape responded with a bruising blow each time the poor girl moved. Her plight had become desperate. If by some magic a dagger had fallen into her hands she would have turned its point upon her own throat at that terrible moment!
From the doorway to this horrid scene of molestation issued two loud bellows, in quick succession. Framed by the stone entry-way were two giant shapes, similar that that of her attacker. At first Grombo merely hissed over his shoulders at the pair of intruders. But then they entered, cautiously, and he finally rose up, off the bruised, shocked human and faced the apish new arrivals without any great hostility. The two appeared to be conveying to him a sort of of rudimentary warning.
CHAPTER 14: "THE STANDING DEAD"
Behind the row of spearmen that faced him, John Carter saw hundreds of other human figures -- men, women and youth, in all sorts of poses but entirely motionless. It occurred to him that none of these people were alive; they had all been dead for a long long time. He lowered his sword point and walked past the silent spearmen. Nothing moved as he approached the frozen crowd -- all were like fossils!
Dejah Thoris caught her breath and wiped a little flow of blood from her forehead and eyes. Her face and body was a mass of bruises and scrapes but no bones were broken and no vital organs seriously injured -- yet. There was a distant sound of rumbling that caught the three apes' attention as well as hers. They seemed much concerned but the princess could make no sense of the imagery of their fast flowing thoughts. Then Grombo seized her, held the girl under one powerful arm and followed the other two anthropoid brutes out into the streets.
Then a very strange thing happened, right in front of her eyes. The monsters had moved only a dozen paces along the vacant avenue when a fissure in the stone widened and shot forth clouds of purple vapor into the air in front of them. Grombo instantly fell back into the shade of a wall, several feet behind the others, while a slight pitching of the ground threw the two lead apes off balance and directly atop the belching crack in the street. One of them managed to rise up on one knee but in an eye-blink both were totally immobilized. Their grunts and bellows continued for a few more seconds but then faded away altogether. To all appearances the pair were stone dead!
Once he was certain that the hundreds of frozen bodies posed no danger, John Carter resumed calling out the name of the abducted red maiden. But no answer came from amidst the silent buildings and streets of Go-La-Ra. He gave the assembly of stony figures only a cursory examination before moving on. None of them carried firearms -- something he had kept an eye out for since finding the long-sword. He guessed they had lived and died long before the first gun was ever seen on the red planet. Many of the frozen figures had fallen to the ground, but just as many remained standing, their feet anchored in the several inches of petrified small animal remains that covered most level surfaces in the ruined city. The figures were frozen into every imaginable pose common to visitors in a market square and only the faces of a couple of them showed any signs of fear or anguish. Their lives must have all ended instantaneously, every one of them frozen in a single split-second, millennia before!
John Carter followed the broad avenue, hoping to discover a sign of the apes he had spied from the tower, minutes before. Then he saw one of them ahead of him, he thought. But just then a heavy cloud of vapor drifted slowly past, obscuring his vision. In the distance, beyond the smothering cloud, he heard a voice calling out, "Dotar Sojat! -- John!" Then nothing.
The ape had thrown the girl over one muscular shoulder and was backing away, cautiously but quickly, from his calcified companions. From this vantage point, ten feet off the ground, the girl noticed a far off moving shape. Her practiced mind caught the Earthman's thoughts even before his searching cries reached her ears. It was her Jasoomian companion! But as she opened her mouth to answer, Dejah felt her jaw and lips stiffen, even her tongue moved slowly. Only with some difficulty was she able to answer his calls
"What is happening to me?" she asked aloud. But dull-witted Grombo offered no reply. It was only then that a vague memory of the legend of Go-La-Ra, city of deadly mists, came to her.
The huge white creature had more than enough hands to hold the girl securely and stifle her cries all at once. His keen eyes recognized his pursuer. The little man from the sleeping place on the flatlands was now behind Grombo with a deadly sharp thing in his hand. Grombo did not want to lose his new prize, but he was wary of both the dangerous purple clouds and the long sharp thing that the man carried. The beast chose flight over fight and moved off with the Martian maiden still on his shoulder, along a path that avoided the little man and the drifting vapors.
Dejah Thoris tried desperately to communicate with the man that followed behind her abductor. Again and again she sent her thoughts out, like a ring of expanding ripples on the surface of a still pool. She tried to warn him of the dangers of the petrifying gases. But the Earthman was yet a novice at telepathy and either he did not perceive her silent calls or he was unable to effectively answer her. Hopeful, frustrated and anxious beyond description the daughter of ten thousand jeddaks strove to loosen the ape's crushing grip upon her nose and mouth, but to no avail. Then her head swam and the light of day seemed to fade away entirely.
It was an inopportune time for dreaming, but such logical realizations had already disappeared from the unconscious mind of the red princess. Somehow she was flying again, in her little one-seat craft, as she had done so often before in traveling between the twin cities of her birthplace. Only now she was high over seas of water, not the ochre dead seas of her experience. The view seemed familiar and she did not question the absurdity of vast oceans encircling the planet in the time when the red race flew their craft through the skies of Barsoom. All was blissful -- happy -- dreamy.
In this vision she flew over a large sea-port of the dim past. Great square-sailed ships were entering and leaving the harbor. The quays were filled with throngs of yellow-skinned people who looked much like herself. Her flyer came in closer, floating along at roof-top level unobserved. Dejah Thoris then saw that the inhabitant's did not have yellow skin at all, but were very pale colored. Here and there she saw individuals applying fresh coats of a lemon hued lotion or wax to their bodies. She thought they must be very vain indeed, to so carefully protect every square sof [inch] of their white bodies from the tanning sun. She floated along and then came to rest over a large, open-air menagerie -- but all of the animals had been replaced by statues. Everything seemed so strange.
The distance between himself and the fleeing ape was the length of four vast buildings that bordered the avenue John Carter was following. All along the way, crevices in the pavement were allowing the escape of the exotic vapors, from some hidden realm deep below the surface. Beyond the fourth building he saw the two immobilized apes and guessed correctly what had happened to them. Large does of vapor were fatal, despite the animals' immunity. Near them was an ambling white creature and his inert female captive. And beyond all of that, a seething geyser of large proportions spewed out black smoke and purple haze, creating a hellish backdrop to the nasty view laid out before him.
The girl's hallucination dissolved into unconnected fragments. She saw a terrible blackness engulf the happy looking people, from out of nowhere, and then they were gone. The shadowy shapes of awful beasts filled the gray streets of the once lively city. Trees, flowers and expanses of lovely crimson sward withered and crumpled into gray debris. All bliss and happiness were gone -- and her lovely dream of Go-La-Ra metamorphosed into cheerless oblivion.
Through the misty vapors, Carter now beheld the princess, Dejah Thoris, motionless in the suffocating grip of the giant ape. He tried to leap forward, across the space that separated them, but his movements on the uneven, crusty ground were much like those of a person wading through thick patches of ice and snow. His jumps were short and clumsy. Even as he watched, the mist obscured the view again. Was he too late? Had her soft young body already changed to stone?
CHAPTER 15: "THE EARTHMAN'S PLIGHT"
The Earthman skirted the spot where the two white apes were frozen into statuesque poses. The purple vapors had greatly subsided, but he knew they could return without warning. He guessed that was how the many fossilized human inhabitants had met their end so many ages ago -- in one vast and deadly purple cloud. Probably they then had been covered with the same protective oil he now wore on his own body, but it did not save them. At any moment a similar potent concentration might erupt from under his feet. But Captain Carter did not linger to consider these thoughts. He had seen his love's skin moments before, and even from many yards away he could tell she wore no protective oil!
The ape could not be far away, he knew that. The creature had stood where he now stood, less than two minutes before. It had traveled a great distance on foot, with a heavy burden and little chance to rest. The bronzed swordsman presumed the creature could not move with any great speed through the ghostly city of Go-La-Ra.
"It must be very close," he thought.
Then he saw the anthropoid giant, not a hundred paces away, just past the evil looking geyser. John Carter raced around the geyser to intercept it, but the creature was more accustomed to the crusty uneven ground than he, and it still managed to elude him. From the distance of a stone's throw the ugly beast roared at him and the Earthman could discern its thoughts,
"Grombo kill! Grombo kill!"
A cold dread swept over the swordsman -- not a fear of the ape, but a fear of something else, something entirely beyond his power to subdue!
Dejah Thoris awakened from her dreadful swooning to find her body pressed, face down upon the pavement by a very heavy weight. She struggled to lift her head, spitting from her mouth dozens of the tiny insect fossils that filled the streets of the dead city. She caught a passing glimpse of a man's legs -- yellowish legs. It took her a moment to realize it was John Carter than that his skin was smeared with the same lemon hued substance she had seen in her vision. She tried to cry out but her lungs were half crushed by the weight of a huge white foot upon her back. And, as if that were not enough, she could now barely move her tongue, open her lips, or blink her eyes. A terrible transformation was slowly overcoming her and she knew exactly how it would end!
The Earthman saw what he had so feared. Beneath the confining weight of the monster's foot the maid of Mars was moving her arms and legs in that same labored, mechanical way that he had seen among the slow-moving, half calcified little animals. The girl's skin was already turning gray!
To one side of the geyser the avenue opened into a large plaza. Here again were many examples of the stony, standing dead -- perhaps an extension of the same crowd he had inspected before. The swordsman made his way quickly into the plaza, then in one fast jump, Carter's earthly muscles carried him within striking distance of the brute.
"Grombo kill! Grombo kill!" came the unvarying mental messages.
The Virginia swordsman's plan was a simple one. He would leap upward, plant his blade deep within the creature's heart and then pull the princess away from Grombo's death struggles. If the ape did not expire almost at once, then the swordsman would finish the necessary butchery with his short sword. None of this planning stole any time from his assault; he had sized up the situation and made up his mind in that regard before closing in on the monster. With a powerful spring John Carter went flying at Grombo, long-sword extended.
However, the Earthman had not counted upon two things. First of all, the ape was a little tired from the long run across the dead sea bottom, but he was by no means exhausted. John Carter could not have anticipated Grombo's unwavering stamina and uncanny speed. The second thing that had escaped the Jasoomian's attention was that the ape concealed a massive hunk of sompus root in the one hand not out in open view. The wicked club had the size and mass of a railroad cross-tie. In a flash, before the blade was at his breast, the ape's club had smashed the sword form Carter's grasp!
The surprised swordsman was knocked so badly off balance by the impact upon his blade that he landed a dozen feet away, smashing to the paving stones two overburdened stone porters who had stood under their petrified loads for untold centuries. Captain Carter was deft enough at Martian leaping to land upon his hands and knees without injury, but now the ape had the upper hand in the fight. From out of nowhere, it seemed, the great wooden club came flying down at him so quickly he could not hope to dodge its deadly blow.
Dejah Thoris stumbled to her feet. It was the first time she had stood, free of the ape's grasp, since her temporary respite on the sea bottom when Grombo had stopped to eat the lizard. The girl wavered, unable move her legs without floundering. She instinctively held out a hand to grasp the nearest possible support and in so doing knocked into the ape's leg. The slight impact had no effect upon the huge creature, of course, except to make him flinch a muscle unexpectedly. It was just enough of a flinch that his murderous aim was deflected a little to one side. Grombo's ponderous club smashed into the stonework and broke in two a hair's breadth from John Carter's skull.
Grombo hesitated for a heartbeat, unsure whether he should push the broken club handle into the fallen little man's face or reach out and grasp the tottering female. During that fleeting interval the Earthman's short sword slashed out and Grombo dropped the stub of a cudgel.
The Martian princess felt as though she were wading neck-deep across one of Helium's great waterways, a few short stretches of which yet remain as free flowing liquid, open to the air. Once, long ago, she had that extraordinary experience, but even moving a long distance through deep water had been easier than the little excursion Princess Dejah Thoris now set out to accomplish. Moving through the plaza in Go-La-Ra, she painfully covered but a few dozen paces in the time she might have run a haad [.4 mile] before the onset of her new paralyzing affliction. Her only intention now was to get out of her chieftain's way, so he could prevail against the great white beast. She sought shelter in the shadows, as far away from the menacing geyser as her stiff legs could take her. Then she rested, weary beyond all measure.
Then it seemed as though the very shadows themselves were closing in upon the battered, defenseless girl, viciously clawing her immobile body! What this shadowy peril might be, she no longer cared. She only hoped her end would come quickly.
CHAPTER 16: "A STONY DEATH"
The terrible swiftness of the great white ape was beyond Captain Carter's comprehension. He had seen these monsters while with the Tharks at Korad. One had even attempted to kill him, an attack that might have proven successful, if not for Woola's timely arrival. But Grombo, crippled as he obviously was in his stiff hands and feet by the purple vapors, could still move faster than John Carter's eye could follow. Again the brute came at him, and before the Earthman could dodge, Grombo's hands had clutched him and swung him crazily overhead. The Jasoomian flew through the air head first, directly into the face of an ersite wall.
These fast-paced events were transpiring as the red princess was still plodding along to the hoped for safety of the nearby shadows. Having flung one of its victims mercilessly through the air, the great beast turned to see what had happened to the other. With a bellow of rage, Grombo charged after his escaping female prize. A half hour had passed since the warnings of his two fellows had interrupted the ape's passionate intentions. In that span the animal's throbbing lust had visibly increased. He was ready to have his way with the female then and there. Two pairs of hairy hands reached down to clutch the rigid, worn-out maiden.
There are times when circumstances become so unexpectedly providential that not even the most ardent skeptic might refrain from giving all the credit to unseen higher powers. John Carter's headlong plunge into a wall of the hardest stone on Mars was broken by a petrified banner pole that snagged one of his sandal straps and redirected his course into the debris of a crumbled building. As the reader may recall, much of Go-La-Ra is covered in an age old accumulation of petrified insects, birds and small animals. This crunchy rubbish is abrasive, but it by no means provides so hard a landing spot as would a slab of solid ersite. John Carter arose well scratched and bruised but in no way seriously injured. In the plaza the thoat cart boasting the petrified pole and banner stood unmoved, just as it had stood before the building of Stonehenge was ever conceived of back on Captain Carter's home planet. However, the most remarkable event was yet to follow.
Having landed a couple of stories above ground level, John Carter was able to look down upon the plaza with a better sense of the placement of things than he had while facing the ape on the pavement. From his new vantage point he could see that the public square below was actually an extension of the same broad avenue and plaza where he had first encountered the standing dead. In short, the two plazas were but opposite ends of a vast L-shaped open space in the southern neighborhoods of Go-La-Ra. But the more important (and providential) thing that the Earthman caught sight of had nothing to do with the standing dead. What he saw from his spot atop the ruined building was that Grombo was just then standing at one end of a long, dislocated stone beam which had long ago fallen from the facade of the crumbled building upon which Carter had landed. Just a little past the far end of the beam crouched Dejah Thoris, half hidden in the ruins bordering the plaza. The beast was almost within striking distance of the poor girl already.
Without stopping to think exactly how the mechanics of the wild idea that had entered his mind might work out, the Earthman took a desperate chance to aid the girl. He toppled a huge stone onto the near end of the beam, almost directly below his landing point. Down fell the weighty block, coming to a sudden, crashing halt at the near extremity of the long hunk of stone work. The happy effects of this impact far exceeded John Carter's wildest hopes. The beam quivered but did not break; instead, the far end sprang into the air at least twenty feet, vaulting the ape back onto the end of the plaza, quite a distance from the motionless princess.
This remarkable sequence of events was followed by a conclusion to the struggle with the white ape that the bronzed swordsman could not have anticipated had he offered a hundred different imaginative possibilities.
"Beyond belief!" shouted the overjoyed Jasoomian observer from the ruined building. "Ares must truly deliver the star-crossed fighting man in times of peril!"
The great hulking body of the ape had landed on the rim of the smoking geyser. It teetered there, as if it were already unbending stone, and then Grombo the great white ape slid to his doom inside the pit of the geyser. Immune only to an average amount of the purple gas, the brute was solidly calcified by the concentrated vapor, ere his sliding body came to rest in the bowels of Barsoom. Such are the unbidden whims of the nameless providence which has ever preserved the bold swordsman from Virginia!
John Carter made his way down from the immense pile of rubble as quickly as he could, stopping only once in the plaza to recover the sturdy Orovarian long-sword. While picking his way though the ruins he came across yet another of the many cisterns of yellow oil that the ancients stocked their city with so abundantly. He wondered if there was yet time to swathe Dejah Thoris in its life preserving coating?
But when John Carter reached the ground, Dejah Thoris had vanished; and although he called, only taunting echoes came from the plaza of the standing dead.
The Princess of Helium never saw the remarkable end that came to her monstrous abductor. Had she seen his stony demise, she might have gained some small measure of satisfaction, after having suffered so grievously at the hands of the white ape. Then again, the maiden possessed a sense of compassion unusual on the dying red planet. Having already experienced the pernicious effects of the deadly mists of Go-La-Ra, she would not have wished that stony curse upon any living thing.
The calcification worked in two different ways, both of which either slowed down a living thing to make it an easy prey of predators, or else eventually rendered it a statue. In the first case the chemicals of the mist deposited a visible layer of thin gray shell upon a body's skin and hair -- a shell that grew in thickness not so much from its visible surface outward as from its lower surface into the poor victim's flesh and other tissues. In the second case, the inhaled fumes worked to stiffen the muscles and other inner connective tissues, so as to make all movements slow and painful. For the semi-immune creatures that infested the dead city, the process might take months or years to work its spell of death. For Dejah Thoris the dreadful calcification took only an hour.
In the icy caves of polar Mars dwells a spider-like animal that injects its various prey with a paralyzing poison which prevents their moving, but which takes days to kill them. During those awful days of total rigidity the poor animal or human slowly loses the ability to breathe. Since the victim's vital functions slow down greatly during the period of deterioration, little oxygen is necessary for survival and most hings which are thus poisoned remain perfectly conscious, though fully paralyzed, until they draw their final breath. Dejah Thoris could only hope for a swifter end.
The shadows into which she had retreated for safety proved to be mostly the result of the screening body of a creature thrice the size of the apes of Go-La-Ra. Overwhelmed by the rigors of being transported nude for hours through the frigid Barsoomian night, along with her seemingly endless ordeal in the clutches of Grombo and the debilitating effects of the purple vapors, Dejah Thoris did not so much as lift a finger when the giant talons closed tightly around her.
CHAPTER 17: "THE VANISHED PRINCESS"
In its wetter, warmer days, Barsoom was the crowded abode of countless species of birds. But when the planet entered into its long downward spiral of death and decay, practically all of the feathered, flying things became extinct. Bevies of flightless birds still dot the more fertile spots on Mars, but their numbers too have been on the decline for centuries. Among the surviving birds of flight are the durkoos and the malagor, common examples of which sometimes reach the size of an adult man. Beyond these denizens of the air are the giant birds of Barsoom, which even today many Martians think of as mythological or prehistoric creatures. Under some circumstances, given a good supply of a certain kind of nourishment and a very long and healthy life, both the durkoos and the malagor may grow to possess wingspans twice or even thrice as wide as a man is tall. The curious reader might like to know that the region where sightings of the Giant Durkoos are most often reported lies between the Forest of Kaol and the dead city of Warhoon, though fossilized specimens have been uncovered as far south of Warhoon as the southern ice fields.
Following the initial clawing and seizure of her body in the shadows, Dejah Thoris had no recollection of her body being carried through the air to the monstrous bird's nest. She was as alert as could be expected under the dismal circumstances. The only explanation she could think of was that the great bird's flight must have been a very short one. The girl guessed correctly; the nest of the durkoos overlooked the L-shaped plaza of Go-La-Ra, almost directly above the spot where John Carter had defeated Grombo the white ape. At least the air was more breathable on the rooftop where the huge feathered creature had released her. The maiden's affliction of rigidity did not abate in the least, but she felt that perhaps her being so far removed from the deadly fumes might retard the rapid progress of the calcification for a while. But none of that mattered; she expected death would soon overtake her.
As John Carter looked upward, through the diminishing vapors, he saw his princess being carried away by a monstrous bird. Nothing he had seen since his advent on the planet prepared him for such a sight and he had to rub his eyes to be certain he was not hallucinating. Comparing the giant durkoos to earthly avian species, it looked to him something like a greatly enlarged eagle with the head of a prairie fowl. The female durkoos that carried off Dejah Thoris was easily six times the size of the largest bird Captain Carter had ever before seen. The thing that had swooped down so silently and so quickly clutched Dejah Thoris in its mighty talons, now flapped to the top of the tallest building fronting the plaza. Although the Earthman could not tell for certain, he correctly guessed the bird's purpose -- to feed the girl to its young nestlings on the rooftop.
The enormous bird dropped the princess into the nest and then flew back down to the spot where it had captured her. The feathered chimera was thus absent from the roof for a couple of minutes and Dejah Thoris instinctively used that opportunity to trudge out of the great mass of rubbish which comprised the nest. The five youngsters appeared to be newly hatched and were not yet fledglings. So long as she retained some limited power of movement the nestlings did not pose much danger to her. However the piles of disarticulated bones the lay scattered on the rooftop, and which partly made up the material of the nest, indicated clearly what her fate would be once the mother bird returned. Moving very sluggishly, the maiden did not reach the parapet of the rooftop until the mother durkoos was fluttering back from her second trip to the plaza. In its beak was the flaccid body of a luckless reptile. The girl peered down into the plaza far below but John Carter had disappeared.
More than half a day had passed since John Carter had left the campsite. Sola, daughter of Gozava and Tars Tarkas of Thark, sat with Woola the Martian watchdog in a most despondent posture gazing at the northern horizon. That was the direction the Earthman had taken when he rode off and it was the direction from whence the thoat returned a little before the sun reached its high point for the day. A couple of distinctive knots in the saddle thongs relayed the man's signal that he had arrived at Go-La-Ra safely. The three pinnacles she remembered from her past visits were, at most, only a few hours away on thoatback. But she knew nothing else regarding what might be transpiring in that dangerous place. She made up her mind, that if the Jasoomian had not returned by mid afternoon, she would trace the charger's trail back to the place where Carter had dismounted and begin a search for him and the princess. That meant disobeying the direct orders of the chieftain to whose retinue she belonged, but the green girl could think of no other option. Her greatest concern was that both of her human friends might be in grave danger at that very moment and that she was doing nothing about it.
The gentleman from Virginia did not pause to enjoy the resplendent furnishings and decorations of the great building as he dashed through its many great rooms and grand hallways, trying to reach the roof as quickly as possible. But, after passing through one vast ballroom sort of chamber, which might have easily accommodated all the belles of Richmond, the ramp he had been ascending plunged into stygian gloom. Go-La-Ra had been built and abandoned well before artificial light was invented on Mars and there were no radium bulbs to be seen anywhere in the building. Captain Carter knew he was losing precious time by backtracking, but he had no other choice in solving his need for illumination.
Once he had returned to the sunlit apartments, the Earthman sought out combustible materials, formed a pair of torches and set one of them ablaze with his Tharkian burning glass. All organic materials in Go-La-Ra suffer, to some extent, from the effects of the deadly mists, but in the case of the cloth and parchment he put into his torches, their calcification only served to make their burning a slow, sputtering process. Aided by this new source of light, he returned to the ramp and resumed his ascent. He could only hope he had taken a way that would not end somewhere short of the building's roof.
"Can I possibly find a way to her side in time?" John Carter wondered.
Then he met with something so deadly that only the torches could have saved him from -- such a peril as is found in the nightmares of the insane!
Dejah Thoris watched in horror as the mother durkoos dismembered the dog-sized lizard with her sharp bill, and then proceeded to drop hunks of the still quivering flesh into the waiting mouths of squawking, blind chicks. The princess had never before heard a Barsoomian bird utter a sound, but then again, she had never seen a giant durkoos either. Soon the reptile's flesh was entirely consumed and the bones left to add their small contribution to the walls of the foul nest.
Dejah Thoris smiled sadly. The nestlings would be grimly cheated, she knew, for her body was already so hardened that her arms clicked against the parapet of the rooftop, like the sound of one piece of stone striking upon another.
Meanwhile, the mother durkoos had grabbed the girl in its beak and was carrying her toward its nest of ugly, screeching young.
CHAPTER 18: "THE YOUNGSTERS' DESSERT!"
The ascending ramp wound around a large open shaft in the center of one the extensive building's many wings. At the beginning of each new storey along the way, the ramp rose up through a tunnel a few yards long. In the next of these tunnels the swordsman entered he found his path blocked by hundreds of hissing, gurgling reptiles, every one of them a carnivorous monster with many rows of dagger-sharp fangs. Pausing, and then taking several steps back, the Earthman looked back over his shoulder and saw quite a few more of the big reptiles, silently trailing him and closing fast with each passing heartbeat.
If the daughter of Mors Kajak had been a true daughter of the cult of Issus, she might have then been saying her final prayers at that moment. But, instead, a thought came to her -- as if from far away -- "Courage, Dejah Thoris!"
For some inexplicable reason the mother durkoos just then soared off, leaving the maid of Mars in the nest alongside its screeching young. The blind little monsters did not attack her directly, but one made a lucky thrust of its pointy beak into a tender spot on the girl's bosom and she determined that she would at least die in relative dignity, outside of the tumultuous nest. Her limbs felt as though they were made of lead, but she edged very slowly out of the bed of bones and rubbish. Her skin was already ashen gray and very soon would be stony hard. The deadly purple vapors she had encountered earlier had nearly finished doing their noxious work upon her.
John Carter eyed the rows of flashing teeth with a grim smile of determination; he had not come so far to be turned away by these packs of hideous reptilian things. There must be a way around them and the exit to the roof could not be far off. He calculated his chances in jumping over them, but in the dark narrow confines of either the tunnel ahead of him or the one he had just come up from, that was impossible. The open space around which the ramp twined presented a vast blackness on his left which the dim light of his torch could not penetrate. The wall on his left was solid carborundum, ten feet thick.
He was vaguely familiar with the tree-haunting, rock-infesting arboks of equatorial Mars, having inspected a couple of Tharkian harness pouches made of their durable hides. He knew that such reptiles could leap as far and fast as his own mighty muscles could take him, if their blood and brains were sufficiently warmed by the sun. But these were creatures of the shadows; that fact was demonstrated by their reluctance to approach any closer than the corona of his torch light. They would wait until his little light died out and then would attack him by the dozens -- in utter darkness.
Dejah Thoris had slowly and painfully worked her way back to the edge of the roof, this time on her increasingly inflexible hands and knees. In the distance she saw the mother durkoos, circling a spot on the ground like a huge vulture, just looking for the most opportune time to strike. It would soon take a new victim, she knew -- and then the feathered monster would return. Her chieftain was nowhere in sight. She tried with all her might to call for him.
"John -- Dotar Sojat! Oh please answer me; where are you!"
The girl's raspy voice was little more than a whisper now. Her soft inarticulate words could not reach him, were he standing a hundred paces away. All was lost. She wondered if she had strength enough to hurl her adamantine body into the plaza, so very very far below?
The Virginia Captain agonized on what path to take next. The reptile pack behind him was the smaller of the two. He might be able to slaughter a host of them and then jump to the safety of the descending ramp. Another level down there was an open exit door he remembered having passed. He had just about settled on this option when, out of the forward company of hissing monsters a large, vigorous hizzah attacked.
If the repulsive reptile can be described in earthly terms at all, it might be said to look something like the fabled Chinese dragon. Its lengthy, sinuous body is covered in a mass of impenetrable scales, practically as resistant as diamonds. The front arms end in long sharp claws, equally hard, while the back limbs are but the atrophied wings of its prehistoric, flying progenitors. The Barsoomian hizzah propels itself with an extremely powerful tail, much like the sidewinder rattlesnake does on the blue planet. And, unlike its shadow-loving fellow reptiles, the hizzah will attack in the light as well as the dark.
With his right hand John Carter thrust out the excellent long-sword of ancient Mars, while his left reached for the short sword at his side. His smoldering torch went tumbling to the floor of the ramp.
"Feed on this!" shouted the Earthman, pointing the short sword directly into the open jaws of the dragon.
At the same time his powerful right hand plunged the longer blade into the belly of the beast. By a great stroke of luck the honed tip of the Orovarian blade slipped between the less compactly arrayed under-scales at the same time the other sword ripped into the dragon's throat. The thing writhed about for a few moments and then fell to the ramp dead. John Carter barely had time enough to recover the flickering firebrand before the arboks closed in from two sides.
A sudden inspiration came to the Earthman. He pulled the second, unlit torch from the confining straps of his harness and set it ablaze from the flame of the fallen one. Then, holding fire in both hands, he alternately forced the light into both of the creeping hordes. The arboks fell back on either side, leaving an open space to the front and back of John Carter and his fresh kill. Then the swordsman worked feverishly to slit open the hizzah and remove its internal organs. Each time the arboks made the slightest move toward him the reptiles got another taste of fire.
When the dragon was gutted, John Carter crawled inside the bloody covering. With straps pulled from his warrior's harness he tied himself in, so that nothing but the diamond scales might meet the jaws of an attacker. Replacing his swords in his belt, and holding a torch in each hand, John Carter moved forward. The first attack came from behind, but he withstood the onslaught. The clawing bodies were all over his back, but the hizzah's tough scales protected the Earthman. Each time he waved a torch the reptiles in the rear backed off and those in front leaped one direction or another, opening a way for him. Twice he was knocked to his knees and once an attacker managed to slither in between his knees for an anxious moment, but the Earthman pressed on. Finally past most of the pack, he let go the heavy carcass and one of the torches. Then with a judicious application of the long-sword he made his way free of the hideous beasts.
A sliver of light broke the darkness ahead, then another and another, forming a hollow rectangle. John Carter pushed forward with a kick of his foot and the age-old wooden door shattered into pieces. Carter stepped into the light. He had reached the roof at last!
"John -- Dotar Sojat! Oh please answer me! Where are you?" a faint voice called out.
CHAPTER 19: "THE DRAGON"
There are times when the heart so overcomes vigilance that triumph is almost immediately swallowed up by tragedy. Luckily for John Carter and Dejah Thoris, that warm summer's day in Go-La-Ra, two impending perils met each other head-on to subdue a seemingly inevitable tragedy.
Moving quickly across the flat roof of the building, John Carter slashed his long blade into the durkoos' nest. The startled, blind chicks were no great danger, he soon discovered. His path was then directly to the unfortunate victim, who still teetered on the edge of the building, in great danger of falling to a terrible death. He pulled her from the peril and it was only then that he saw how horribly the purple mists had altered the fair form of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. He gathered the slender body up in his arms and, for the first time since his advent upon Mars, John Carter wept.
"My, princess!" he cried out, "I did not think I would find you in time!" Then, after pausing to hold his cheek to hers, he continued, "You have been through such terrible experiences! I would have done anything to ..."
Dejah Thoris' eyes spoke of an irrepressible love, but the girl's unbending gray lips stuttered out a dire warning.
"My chieftain! The -- door! The -- sky!"
John Carter turned to face a most unexpected invader. Only then did it occur to him that he had neglected to secure the ramp-exit doorway! Through the passage which he had just exited appeared a monstrous reptile -- another hizzah, more than double the size of the dragon he had slain inside the building. Still covered in the gore of one frightful hizzah, John Carter turned to face yet another!
The roof, empty but for bits of rubbish and the smashed bird nest, offered no possible hiding place or means of escape. His only option, short of suicide, was to stand and fight the enormous reptile. Captain Carter gripped the handle of the antique long-sword with new urgency, hoping he might find one small unprotected spot at which to strike. As he closed his fingers he noticed that the yellow oil had long since rubbed off and that they were becoming increasingly stiff. The man raised his long-sword to meet the invulnerable monstrosity, but the contest seemed hopeless.
The sun shines through the thin air of Barsoom with a distinctive burning intensity, especially when it is at its zenith. A blocking of its rays immediately lowers the temperature, quite perceptibly -- John Carter felt oddly cool. At the same time, the appearance of a large enveloping shadow alerted the swordsman to the girl's second warning -- for, even as the dragon rushed out through the open portal, the mother durkoos was plunging down from the sky with its wicked talons extended and open for the kill!
Although his heart ached beyond measure for the plight of the battered, rigid girl, John Carter had no choice but to release her and then to simultaneously confront two giant intruders, either one of which might kill him in an instant!
As the Earthman braced himself for what might be the final conflict of his life, a very strange thing happened. The great bird had been soaring down directly upon Dejah Thoris and himself. Perhaps an eye-blink's time remained before they would be struck with incredible force and ferocity. At the last possible instant, however, the great bird turned and circled a little above the roof, carefully inspecting the creatures that dared trespass on the sanctity of its nest. Then the winged terror swooped down in a mighty dive to attack its old enemy, the male, chick-devouring reptile. The hizzah had one eye on the humans and one eye on the bird. It was not taken unawares, in fact its sinuous form shot upward with the speed of a striking cobra and the two giant things met in deadly combat, six feet off the ground. To Captain Carter, who had served with General Scott at Vera Cruz, it looked like the great seal of Mexico's eagle and rattlesnake image come to life!
The durkoos appeared to be unaffected by the giant reptile's venomous stabs, while the dragon's impervious scales protected it equally well from both talon and beak. It was impossible for the humans to determine which monster had the advantage, but for the moment it was enough just to see that they were totally preoccupied in attacking each other.
Taking the poor girl back up into his arms, the Virginia swordsman looked for some way off the high roof, but the only imaginable route of escape was back through the ramp-way exit door and down through the unlit, reptile infested passage. Even as he considered that unlikely path, a chilling sound caught his ear, the scraping of hard, reptilian scales upon the carborundum building stone. Two wicked points of light shone from the doorway and then the form of a third hizzah began to emerge into the light of day. Although a female, it was in every way as large and terrifying as the dragon fighting with the giant bird overhead. Carter realized then that all hope of escape for them through the doorway had been cut off, but perhaps there was another way.
On the dead sea bottom, 150 haads [40 miles] away, the green girl replaced the saddle and the camp luggage upon the giant thoat. She donned her leather harness, tightened her zitidar sandals, and placed the short sword in her belt. Sola's firm flat bosom heaved in a long gasp of tender emotion, quite remarkable for a Thark. She had lost her mother, then her people and perhaps now even her unknowing father, but she would not lose the human friends she cared for so much. Sola daughter of Gozava was ready to fight and die, if that was the only path left open to friendship and love!
Woola ceased his anxious pacing and whining. Even the unimaginative beast could sense enough of Sola's thoughts to understand that they were about to go out to join John Carter. The calot ran ahead of the girl, pointing out the scent trail northward, then stood there, licking his rows of teeth with a long rough tongue, waiting. It was time to get moving!
With a cold, unemotional stare the female dragon in the doorway eyed the battle going on in the sky, only a few feet away. It also spent a second or two in contemplating the nest full of screeching durkoos chicks. Finally it turned its cruel unblinking eyes upon the slender human and her armed companion. The slithering monster's mouth had a hungry look about it -- the long green tongue darted back and forth, as if seeking out the most tasty morsel of flesh on the roof. Then it moved very quickly upon the humans, fangs exposed and dripping venom.
John Carter looked up. The struggle between bird and reptile raged on in the sky above. The battling pair were barely two feet above his head. With the girl held tight to his chest, he leaped up, grabbed one leg of the durkoos and hoped against hope that the huge bird might rise upward, if only for a few moments. Amazingly that is just what happened! But the male hizzah had wrapped itself around the bird's neck and together they all were swept away from the rooftop!
CHAPTER 20: "A DIZZY FLIGHT!"
For two hours Sola and the calot made their way across the barren wastes of the no-man's-land which borders the dominions of the Tharkian hordes on the east. She now had a fair idea where she was -- thousands of haads south of the dead city of Korad and practically due east of Thark. It was a region she had visited several times during her brief childhood and now the green girl was certain she could pick out a route north, past the green race's encampments and then west to the waterways of Helium. If only John Carter and Dejah Thoris yet lived!
The three pinnacles rose up before her and far beyond them, the line of high land on the distant horizon that betokened the forbidden Plateau of Eo. Woola was already halfway to the pinnacles and when she reached that same spot, Sola knew she would gaze upon fabled Go-La-Ra, the city of the deadly mists. However, her scrutinizing of the northern horizon was interrupted by an extraordinary sight, high in the sky, just short of the three pointed rocks.
The durkoos flew high over the city, seeking to dislodge the dragon clinging to its neck. John Carter clung desperately to the great bird's leg with one hand, while in the other arm he held the Martian princess. The two monsters continued their aerial battle, but it was plainly clear that the bird was tiring. Its wings beat with a labored flapping that brought it closer and closer to the ground with each passing second. Sooner or later the fatigued durkoos would have to alight. The only question in John Carter's thoughts was whether or not he could hold on long enough to witness that conclusion. His fingers were growing stiff and cold -- and, like the ashen body of the girl he held to his breast, they too were changing to a dismal gray.
With all his strength the Earthman pulled himself upward, until he managed to throw one leg over the giant bird's foot spur. It was a precarious seat, but by holding on with his legs he could free one hand long enough to carry out the mad plan that was developing in his brain.
Her voice was so raspy and unnatural that he could scarcely fathom what the two syllables were that Dejah Thoris had spoken. But her thoughts played upon his and he knew he should look downward, to the Marscape below. He saw the outer bounds of Go-La-Ra, the three pinnacles and a wild thoat upon the mossy flatlands. Then John Carter looked more carefully and he recognized the mount and its rider.
The green girl waved her sword in circles high above her head. She projected her thoughts with all her might, upward at the strange scene above her. But if her friends saw her they gave no indication of it. A few scattered images of the giant bird and its unwanted passengers played across her mind, but those came from steadfast Woola, not from the minds of the two humans.
Sola looked at the empty rifle boot beside her in anguish. If only they had fled Thark with a radium rifle, she might use the weapon to some good effect now. But their lone rifle had been lost with the runaway thoat at the courtyard of Tal Hajus and the Jasoomian's pistol had been taken by her father. So Sola, the faithful green friend of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, and Woola, the Earthman's loyal calot, could only look on helplessly as events unfolded which were beyond their power to influence in the slightest.
"I think there may be a way, Dejah Thoris!" Carter shouted; but no reply came from the maiden.
There was nothing he could do but attempt the daring plan that had formed in his head. Drawing his long-sword, he began slicing away at the bird's flight feathers, each time the flapping left wing came within reach. The durkoos had been losing altitude since it left the city and now it flew erratically -- first one way then another. Finally the feathered monster dipped far downward. John Carter's legs released their hold and both man and girl dropped to the ground.
Relieved of the heavy burden, the fighting monsters rose again. However the wing of the durkoos was so badly damaged that it could not stay aloft for long. Both bird and dragon plunged into the long abandoned quays of Go-La-Ra and perished in one of the smoking craters that poured out the deadly purple vapors.
The couple had landed a few hundred paces from the base of the pinnacles and John Carter recalled the cistern of yellow protective oil. If he could just drag the rigid body of Dejah Thoris that far, perhaps there was yet hope. Along the way he was overtaken by an overjoyed Woola, but the Earthman could only offer a few words of welcome. He strained to carry his princess the remaining distance.
His happy reunion with the green girl was short-lived, for the princess' body, affected by the vapors of the city, had suddenly turned totally rigid and stony. Sola dismounted and helped him carry the frozen princess the short distance to the cistern. They lay the lifeless form out upon her back and applied the singular oil all over her body, but to no avail. She remained a statue, though her two friends watched and waited for an hour or more.
John Carter insisted that they remove themselves as far away as possible from the dead city and its accursed mists, so it was late in the night before he and Sola stopped at a suitable spot on the sea bottom to make their camp. Both of them were overcome with grief at the girl's undeserved fate, but neither the Thark nor the Earthman could find the words to express that common sorrow. They kept a silent vigil over the body, until the exhausted and afflicted man at last fell asleep.
The daughter of Tars Tarkas and Gozava remained awake all night, grieving over the loss of her one dear female friend on all of warlike Barsoom. She had brought a flask of the yellow oil with her and half of this she added to that coating already covering the girl's body, but no good came of it. By a slip of her hand she knocked into the rigid hair of Dejah Thoris and a curl fell away from her head as though it were broken glass. Then Sola too cried.
While John Carter slept the green girl applied the remaining oil to his naked body, cleaning his several bad cuts and scratches in the process. His right arm was stony almost to the elbow, but on the man's left side only three of the fingers had turned gray and they were not entirely unbending. The Thark continued to massage the afflicted fingers, rubbing in the lemon hued oil until it had well penetrated the skin. Then she and the calot kept each other company until daybreak.
Sola prepared what little food was left in the saddle bags and waited for the Earthman to awaken. She then inspected the sleeping man's calcified fingers. They were no better, but at least they were no worse. Then she knew not what else to do, but eventually most satisfactory idea came to her.
"Why, of course!" she said aloud. "The Plateau of Eo is but three days' walk from here. There we may yet find a remedy for this terrible malady!
CHAPTER 21: "VICTIM OF THE DEADLY MIST!"
It was a glorious night; both moons shone upon the silent plain, giving the Marscape a haunting golden tinge, broken by deep blue shadows. For more than three days they had trudged constantly northward alongside their great beast. The giant thoats of the green men are wild, unruly things which spend their lives bounding over the vast surface of the red planet. The thoat that carried the rigid body of Dejah Thoris chafed under the two controlling beings who forced it into the slow, slogging trek; the dull-witted beast could not know that the fragile burden it carried upon its broad back was the incomparable Princess of Helium.
My sword cannot help her now," said the man. "Yet I'd gladly die to see her breathe again."
"Patience, Earthman," advised Sola. "I think it may be possible. Since we left Go-La-Ra I have felt stirrings among my thoughts. I believe it is the faint telepathy of our friend Dejah Thoris. I am convinced that her life spark has not gone out, John Carter. Soon we shall reach the forbidden Plateau of Eo. There perhaps we will find a remedy to her misfortune."
"The very plateau you speak of, Sola, now stands before us. Already the ground grows rough and we tread a beaten path. You have said very little about this secret place, or why it is 'forbidden' or what we shall encounter there. I must know what dangers we face this night -- and what hope of yours has brought us to this lonely place."
The girl hesitated, as if struggling with an inner voice that held her back. Then she answered.
"Dotar Sojat, most that I know of this place comes from Tars Tarkas' woman, Sarkoja, and she has told me very little. It is a place very rarely visited, and only then by a small number of our women. And," Sola added, "never seen by our men, except from great distances. It called the 'forbidden mountain' in the idiom of Thark; the Thurd and Warhoon people call it 'Eo.'"
"Listen, Dotar Sojat, and I will tell you what I can. As you know, the green women make the guns and ammunition for our warriors. But, in all your travels through our country did you see one place where the metals are mined, or the raw materials turned into gun parts, or the complicated sighting devices assembled and calibrated? No, you did not; for we have no such factories and shops. Some useful things we find in the ruins, or capture from the red race, or trade for with their gun runners. However, it is our accurate radium rifles that they come to trade their ammunition and pistols for in these secret dealings. We and other green people assemble the long guns, but we do not make the components. Do you understand?"
John Carter admitted that he had never given the matter much thought, but he had seen unexplained evidence of an advanced technology among the green race. The women held such things secret, however, and he had no inkling as to their source.
Sola said, that for untold centuries, the green women of the southern hordes had come to the "forbidden mountain" to trade for gun parts, medicines and certain other things that they were unable to produce for themselves. The inhabitants of Eo had once furnished them with all manner of trade goods and knowledge, in return for the radium the green scavengers gathered from the ruined cities. Over the past few centuries, however, the trade had dwindled to a trickle. The Wizards of Eo, who had once watched over and protected the green Martians, now seemed no longer to care about them. Still, for them nothing was impossible. And to them the green females came to find cures for life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
As they neared the ascent to the plateau John Carter noticed a durkoos circling overhead in the moons' light. He had seen the bird for the past two days. It was much smaller than the monster he had encountered in Go-La-Ra and it behaved much differently. It appeared to be following them and watching them. But, as it presented no immediate danger, the Earthman gave it little attention.
"Dotar Sojat," the girl asked, "how is your arm now?"
"Cold -- it feels cold. And the flesh at the edge of the calcified portion has turned blue. I have seen gangrene take the limbs of many soldiers in my time. I fear I may lose my sword arm if these wizards you speak of do not treat it soon. That would be a cruel fate for a fighting man like myself!"
Meanwhile, not far away, two figures bent over a viewing screen and watched events as they unfolded at the base of the forbidden mesa. The televising apparatus was located at the top of a high metal tower on the plateau and one of those watching the video images was himself made of the same shining element. As the two strange beings watched, they saw a green woman and a smaller white man unload a statue-like body from the back of their thoat.
"Do you have the sound transmission ready, yet?" asked the smaller of the two figures.
"No, Master Vovo," replied the metal man, "the microphone in the mechanical bird cannot pick up their voices from such a distance. I will cause it to land near them so it can hear their words."
"Don't bother, Oman, we will go out to meet them. Get the flying device from the stables and meet me at the window landing. Bring your sword and pistol. There may be trouble with the man."
All of these commands the Wizard of Eo spoke softly into a mouthpiece, mounted below his thick green chin. Oman, the mechanical man, hastened to obey his master's transmitted commands, leaving Vovo alone at the view-screen. The wizard saw John Carter kneel before the stricken girl and exchange words with the green girl. Both wore the metal of Thark, a nation he knew well -- and from more than just their infrequent trading with him. Vovo could well guess what the strangers were discussing; his remote video camera had observed their progress all the way from Go-La-Ra.
"What do we do now?" questioned the Earthman.
"I do not know. Perhaps the women of my race trade their radium here at the base of the mountain; or perhaps they ascend it by this narrow trail on foot and carry out the exchange somewhere above. No one has ever told me how it is done. But it will be difficult for us to carry Dejah Thoris up the steep and winding path. Her body is frail now and a single hard jolt might fracture an arm or a leg. Perhaps you could follow the trail, while I remain here with her and our thoat"
As John Carter pondered what to do next, he noticed that the odd durkoos that had been accompanying them was gone from the sky overhead. He wondered if the bird might be a tamed pet, gone off now to warn its owner of trespassers upon the trail to mysterious Eo.
Oman brought the "flying device" up to Vovo's window. It was the most outlandish flyer ever seen on Mars, a mechanical contrivance having the appearance a large thoat. Nowhere were propellers, flaps or buoyancy tanks to be seen. It appeared to operate by magic rather than by science. The two bizarre figures, one a misshapen green dwarf and the other a gleaming metal robot, mounted their flying thing and departed the silver tower. So it was that Vovo, last Wizard of Eo, and Oman the odwar of the mechanical men, rode forth to intercept the strangers.
CHAPTER 22: "THE WIZARD"
"One of the Wizards of Eo!" cried Sola, as the mechanical mount and its two extraordinary riders leaped down from the sky.
Before John Carter could respond, the metal thoat and its two odd passengers looped downward and landed beside them. The Earthman's right hand instinctively reached for his long-sword, but its frozen fingers were useless. So, instead, he gripped his short sword as best as he could with the less afflicted left hand. Then John Carter advanced boldly.
"I have heard that the Wizards of Eo are great medical geniuses. I beg you, sir, to help the Princess of Helium, if you can!"
Silently the wizard surveyed the Earthman. Only Vovo's big eyes moved, gleaming weirdly in the moonlight. Then he mumbled low commands into his mouthpiece and Oman helped him to the ground.
"There is but one Wizard of Eo: I am he and you may address me as 'Master Vovo.' You wear a Barsoomian harness, but you are not of this planet. Your arms and hands have been partly calcified and you are in immediate danger of losing them. The body of this female is also afflicted. Chances for any recovery are slender. You have brought nothing in payment or trade for what I can offer. But, if you bring useful knowledge from another world, we can talk."
John Carter pointed to the girl. "Strange gases in the city of Go-La-Ra changed her body to stone. The same vapors are the cause of my injury. I will tell you what happened..."
Impatiently the little wizard waved aside the explanation. "I know!" he cried. "I know! Vovo knows all, sees all! There is nothing you can tell me about Go-La-Ra, or the petrifying vapors that I do not already understand."
"Then help her. I am from the world you call Jasoom. I am but a simple fighting man who has no great knowledge or riches to give. But I will cooperate in any honorable way that you require. Just help, her, for God's sake!"
"We have no gods here, Jasoomian. I already know as much of your planet as I care to learn. But you say that this is the Princess of Helium, do you? Perhaps I can help her, after all. Any way, I see that there may be some profit for me in this. As for you, what reward might there be for restoring your arms and hands."
John Carter straightened into a soldier's pose and stared at the little green man. Then he spoke, with anger in his voice and fire in his steel gray eyes.
"The only grand-daughter of the Jeddak of Helium has suffered many perils. I serve her as a loyal companion. I know not what reward there might be for me after she has been restored to her family, but you may take it. I do not serve her out of greed but out of friendship and..."
"Yes, yes, I can see that!" Vovo muttered. "It may prove useful for me to treat both of you -- but, I can do nothing for you in this wild place. I must take the two of you to my laboratory -- from whence no outsider have ever returned. The green girl and the calot are useless to me. If they come any closer to Eo than this, that will be their end. Do you understand?"
Neither of the travelers spoke, but on Mars as on Earth, silence betokens assent.
"Load the statue upon the anti-gravity device," the little man commanded his robot. "Handle her with care. I shall take her to my tower and send the conveyance back for you and the Jasoomian shortly. Hurry, time is of great importance in healing these sorts of infirmities."
With that the little green man summoned the robot to help him mount the flying thoat and was soon gone. John Carter watched as the odd contraption lifted the wizard and the poor princess up into the nighttime sky and then out of sight.
"Can you speak?" John Carter inquired, once he and Sola were alone with the mecho-man.
"I can hear. I can speak. I obey the transmissions of Vovo. Vovo is great! Vovo is wonderful! Vovo knows all. Vovo sees all..."
Sola interrupted the monotonous reply: "Your master looks like a Thark, but he does not speak in Tharkian idiom. What is he? Where did he come from?"
"Master Vovo is very old. You are very young. Were you very old, you could answer these questions," was all the response he gave.
"Oman," the Earthman began again, "did Vovo build you? Are you his invention? Do you know the story of your origin? In all my years I have never seen anything like you -- but I have heard of a mechanical man in Europe, in a great clock, whose hammer strikes a bell every hour."
"Your questions have no answers. Master Vovo is very old. I am very old. Vovo has blood in his body. I have oil and radium in my body. I live to serve my Master. My origin I cannot tell you."
But then Oman's staccato voice softened and took on tones that were almost human. His unblinking glass eyes looked downward for a moment, and he finished his reply with a strange disclosure.
"My origin I cannot tell you, because I myself have forgotton it. I recall a time when the land was covered in water and Eo was surrounded by an ocean. That was long, long ago. It is my earliest memory. Master Vovo sustains us. Master Vovo's will is our will. We obey none but Vovo. "
Then the metal man fell silent, his eyes staring straight ahead. The only comparison John Carter could think of was the silence of a telegraph key after the end of a Morse code message.
"What do you think, Sola?" the Earthman asked.
"There are no dwarfs among my people," she replied. I once saw a hatchling whose egg had opened late. The child had wandered about for weeks, eating only moss, like a thoat. He was short and very thin when we discovered him. Sarkoja shot him with a pistol and called him a "banth morsel." I never saw another, but Vovo may be such an orphan. Who might have raised him I cannot say."
John Carter made a move in the direction of Oman's pistol holster and immediatly the metal man came to life. Just then the Earthman saw the flying thoat returning through the moon-lit sky. He directed the robot's attention to the sight.
"Now you go to Eo; the girl waits here. Your return is indefinite; her wait will be indefinite."
CHAPTER 23: "THE FORBIDDEN PLATEAU"
Sola watched in anguish as the mechanical mount leaped into the air. Once again John Carter had left her behind while he made a desperate attempt to save the star-crossed princess. The parting was a sad one for Sola and she was worried that she might never see either of the humans again. It had been her idea to seek help in this mysterious place, but nothing was working out the way she had expected. She could only hope for the best, while her better judgment feared the worst.
On the short trip to the wizard's tower Oman answered some of the Earthman's questions about the flying thoat. It was a recent invention from Vovo's laboratory and it marked the end of the little green man's life-long quest to master the force of gravity. But John Carter was a fighting man and he had little interest in such things as radium degravitators. All he wanted to know was how soon Dejah Thoris might be cured of the terrible ailment she now suffered.
Years later the Earthman discovered an account of Vovo's life, written among the notes in a manuscript book, entitled "Pew Mogel, His Life and Wonderful Works." The author knew of Vovo's mentor and that red man's scientific research, which Pew Mogel belittled and dismissed with great contempt. But in that sarcastic review he discloses some interesting facts.
Vovo was hatched in a Tharkian incubator, about fifteen hundred years before Captain Carter came to Mars. His egg cracked during incubation, robbing the green infant of much needed nourishment. When the hatchlings were taken away, to join the adult Tharks, the disfigured runt was left to die. However he was found and raised by an outlaw green warrior. This Thark pariah had gathered a meager retinue of fellow outcasts about him and the band lived in one of the smaller ruined cities on the northern fringe of the Tharkian domain. Too small and weak to fight with the males, the runt was raised with the female hatchlings and trained with them in the art of assembling weapons and ammunition. He proved to be a great genius in that trade and it was the boy's improvements in their radium rifles that gave the outlaw warriors advantage enough to survive the attacks of their enemies for several years.
The outcasts were finally hunted down by the Jeddak of Thark. Only the young dwarf was not massacred. His bent little body and highly intelligent mind made him an object of amusement among the jeddak's troops. The young prodigy soon escaped them and made his way to Zodanga, where he was captured and placed in a zoo. The zoo subsequently disposed of its surplus animals, selling them to a scientist for laboratory experiments. So it was that the unwanted green genius at last came under the tutelage of the man who named him. This was the theorist and inventor Vo Dor, himself an exile from Helium.
In the course of time one jeddak died and another came to power over the Heliumite Empire, and Vo Dor returned to his homeland, taking his green ward Vovo with him. There Vo Dor set up a new experimental lab and perfected certain innovative weapons, one of which came to the attention of an organized band of assassins. The scientist soon became involved in their plot against the new Jed of Greater Helium, who in those days was a prince named Tardos Mors. When the conspiracy was uncovered, Vo Dor fled his homeland for a second time to Zodanga. For some unknown reason he and Vovo did not complete that journey and they were never seen again. The imperial government of Helium seized Vo Dor's laboratory and inventions, many of which were put to effective use by the military. The account compiled by Pew Mogel ends at that point in time, adding only that most of the inventions credited to Vo Dor were really the creations of his assistant, VoVo the dwarf.
John Carter, however, knew none of this biography when he was at Eo. All Vovo disclosed was that his superior intelligence "resulted in banishment by my own people, who are highly superstitious." Had the Earthman then known about the little green man's constant preoccupation with revenge and deception, he might have not fallen into the trap Vovo was setting. And, had he known that the so-called wizard had once been on the periphery of a conspiracy to kill the grandfather of Dejah Thoris, Captan Carter might have better guessed Vovo's hidden motives. As things turned out, it was not until years later that the bold Virginian put together all of the incriminating pieces of the puzzle that made up Vovo, the last Wizard of Eo.
Atop the plateau loomed a great mass of dense vegetation. In the light of the two moons the seemingly endless expanse of foliage appeared to be a wild jungle. In the brighter illumination of day, upon closer inspection, John Carter's eyes would have revealed what his sense of reason was then telling him -- that such a jungle could not have sprung up and thrived in the dry desert of southeastern Mars without the protective care of numerous intelligent beings.
Both Sola and the green dwarf had spoken of the Plateau of Eo as a place of advanced science and technology, but where was the urban area over which Vovo ruled? Carter discerned no civilization, no laboratories, no factories -- just unbroken forest, as far as the eye could see.
"Oman," asked the Earthman, seizing upon a sudden inspiration, "your master called you an 'odwar' did he not?"
"I am Odwar of the mechano-men of Eo," the robot replied.
"How many do you have command over and where do they live?"
"I have responsibility for ten thousand mechano-men. They are divided into ten companies, nine of which live within the caverns of Eo and one of which guards and maintains the city of Eo. The city occupies one square haad of cleared space in the center of the plateau. The garden and the ruins occupy the remainder."
The Earthman guessed that what Oman called "the garden" was the vast jungle that covered the mesa from one side to the other. He did not think to ask what "the ruins" might be.
Woola watched as his master disappeared into the night sky. He whined nervously; all was not well; even a brute with limited intelligence could understand that much. As she had done each night since their escape from Thark, Sola posted him to serve as watchdog while she got what little sleep she could under difficult circumstances. Woola, however, felt the call of a higher loyalty. He could not follow the strange thoat that had carried his master away into the sky, but the calot's sharp eyes saw the thing's path of descent and he realized that John Carter must be somewhere on the top of the vast flat mountain. That was enough for him to know; the wardog started up the trail to the forbidden realm of Eo.
The green wizard laid the girl's body upon a narrow table, the top of which was surmounted by an ersite slab. Even in her rigidity the naked maiden was the very picture of regal elegance. He examined her eyes through a magnifying glass. The calicifying layers were thin and transparent; below them Vovo noticed the slow ebbing and flowing of blood in the tiny vessels of both eyes.
"Ah-ha! Granddaughter of Tardos Mors! You are still alive under that stony skin, aren't you! How much Helium owes my genius -- can you even imagine? How much are you worth, red princess?"
CHAPTER 24: "THE JUNGLE'S SECRET"
The Virginian was positive that the degravitated, mechanical mount must be flying over the center of the great mesa, but when he looked down he could still see no city. He looked again, and at a level not far below the crowns of the tall trees, John Carter could pick out the flat roofs of several buildings. Each roof was covered with its own patch of vegetation, so it was difficult for him to tell how many of them there were. He counted fifty and guessed there might be ten times that many, most of which blended so well into the surrounding jungle as to be practically invisible from the air.
The flying thoat slowed and hovered above the scarcely discernible city of Eo. From the midst of the roofs a tall slender tower of silver hue began to rise. The Earthman knew of Barsoom's ascending and descending buildings from his conversations with Dejah Thoris, but this was the first example he had encountered. When the metal shaft had risen a hundred sofads [100 feet] into the night sky it ceased to ascend. A large window opened near its top. It was to this window that the flying mechanical mount now made its way.
Hasten, Oman!" urged John Carter impatiently, "while there is yet time to restore life to the princess!"
The Earthman expected some minimal welcome or a diagnosis of the stony state his princess had fallen into, but Vovo's first words were ones of self praise.
"Did you see, Jasoomian?" he cried out, "With my brains alone guiding the hands of my mechanical men, I have built my own city! Here I reign as royal wizard and jedwar of my own metallic army."
"Where is Dejah Thoris?" was Carter's only answer.
"Oh yes, the Princess of Helium. Come down from the flying device and I shall show you. My lab is close at hand. The Princess of Helium in my tower! Can you believe it, Oman?"
"Vovo is great! Vovo is mighty!" was the reply, in monotonous repetition from the mouth of Oman, the mechanical man.
"Do you know, Jasoomian, that they exiled me for my radical ideas," Vovo cackled. "That my intellect far surpassed theirs is evident by my advanced architectural designs. It is time that Helium paid me proper respect, don't you think?"
After Captain dismounted, Vovo led the him to his laboratory, while Oman tended to the mechanical mount.
"We shall look in on the princess in due course, man of another world. But first of all, there is something you should see."
Within his grand laboratory, Vovo directed the Earthman's attention to a large view-screen. It was like nothing John Carter had seen before. In front of his eyes was a moving image, all in color. It was ten times more fascinating than the magic lantern show he and Lieutenant Powell had once attended in St. Louis.
"What is this, Vovo, a sorcerer's mirror?"
"The city you see in the moving pictures is Helium -- over a thousand miles away. I forget at the moment what communications devices you have on Jasoom. You have no moving pictures machines do you?"
"I have operated telegraph apparatus," answered Carter. "I know that instructions on how to draw a picture can be sent by code, over a wire. You have a device that draws the pictures very quickly? Or are they many photographs put together?"
"You have the basic idea, Jasoomian. But forget the wire. These moving pictures were recorded by one of my mechanical birds. Then the bird, which has a camera in it, flew part way back to Eo and sent me the moving pictures without any need for a telegraphic wire. Watch, I will play the same recording a second time."
John Carter watched the televised scenes with a certain amount of respect and wonder. It was a wonderful invention, no doubt, but he did not see how it could help the frozen princess.
"So that is Helium, eh? The images are remarkable. Such a means of communication would have been very useful to the generals of the last army I served in. But what good is it to you, to sit here and watch a distant city in this way?"
"Oh it is of great use," laughed the wizard. "I can spot any invader -- any enemy -- before he ever arrives at my door. I watch Helium's airships leave every dawn in search of Dejah Thoris, their princess. They search for her mostly in the northern hemisphere these days, with hundreds of naval fliers. Great amounts of treasure are expended every day by the Jeddak of Helium and he has nothing to show for it. And now I have his granddaughter as my guest. This is a very useful development, don't you think!"
"I have heard you say you want the reward that will be given upon her return. If you can save her life and send her back to her family in safety, then I'm sure the reward will be yours."
Vovo looked up from the view-screen and his big eyes searched John Carter's muscular frame carefully. Yes, the Jasoomian was a fighting man. Too bad that he had no usable hands to wield his swords. But, for the moment, that too suited Vovo's purposes.
"No, Jasoomian," you mistake my purpose here. I will do my best to save the princess. I will not ask for the reward. I shall demand 100 times the value of any reward Helium has to offer, for I shall hold their healed princess, until they pay my asking price, for a great ransom!"
John Carter said nothing. So long as Dejah Thoris was revived and returned to her people in good health, it did not matter to him what price Helium paid, nor whether the payment was called "reward" or "ransom." But he had played the little man's game long enough. It was time for action.
"You have made your point, Vovo. Show me Dejah Thoris now. Show me what you can do for her. My patience with you and all your talk is wearing thin!"
"Then look behind you, beyond the shelves of medical equipment." Vovo gloated. "There lies your precious princess. And only I can save her now!"
CHAPTER 25: "GENIUS OR MADMAN?"
Vovo turned off the television screen and joined John Carter at the table where Dejah Thoris had been laid out upon her back, like an overturned statue. Just then Oman returned and the three of them inspected the unfortunate girl.
"I care not how much Helium pays you, Vovo, but a princess of stone will bring you no ransom at all," Carter said sternly. "So revive her, ere it is too late!"
"All in due course, Jasoomian, all in due course. First it would be best for me to test the procedure, don't you agree? I have done this sort of thing before, but the results vary. If I am not careful I might remove the calcification successfully, but she still might not regain consciousness. Or she might die in the process. Let us first test my healing powers on your own arms and hands. You will soon lose them -- you know that -- if I do not treat them now. What say you, impatient warrior?"
John Carter agreed that Vovo's plan was the best way to proceed and he consented to climb upon a second slab, which Oman pushed up beside the table bearing Dejah Thoris. Vovo explained the procedure. With John Carter lying flat on his back, the wizard would inject a certain medicine into each arm and then subject them to the glowing beam from a strange machine. If all worked well, the Earthman's hands would return to normal in a matter of minutes.
"Let's get this over with," remarked the Virginian. "The night is far spent and so far I have heard nothing from you but talk,"
But before he could say another word the drug began to take effect.
As though in a dream John Carter watched the green dwarf and his mechanical assistant train the warm rays upon first one of his arms and then the other. A few minutes passed. He struggled to remain conscious. Before long he felt the strength returning to his wrists and fingers. He tried to raise his head but a cold dizziness held him back. So he raised his arms instead. The color was beginning to return to them. His fingers moved easily now.
Vovo's eyes feasted on the beauty of the stricken girl -- her face was like a frozen mask of ersite. But the wizard seemed certain now that he could revive the sleeping beauty. He and Oman moved the ray machine over to her slab.
"I am tempted to keep her and forget the ransom," Vovo muttered. "She is really well suited for another of my greatest experiments!"
"You'll keep your promise, little man." Captain Carter cried out. "Ransom or no, work the same magic upon her that you did upon me. No experiments! No tricks!. Bring her back to life and be quick about it!"
John Carter had recovered fully. The only side effect he felt was the cold dizziness, but he fought off the dreamy feeling and urged Vovo to proceed. When the dwarf did not speed up his movements, the Earthman drew his long-sword and nudged Vovo's ribs with its sharp point.
"Your genius will be short-lived, little green man, unless you revive this afflicted girl, and do it quickly!" Carter snapped.
"Why, you ungrateful wretch!" shouted the little man. "You dare pull your sword on me, in my own home! Lower your blade or I'll have both you and your princess ground to dust and scattered to the winds!"
Vovo spoke a word into his microphone and Oman came forth, pointing a loaded pistol at Captain Carter. At the same moment a dozen more armed mechanical men appeared, as if out of thin air. Carter did not lower his sword, but neither did he thrust it into the one person who might save the Princess of Helium. He, the dwarf, Oman and the throng of robots all stood watching each other, with none of them moving a muscle.
It was Vovo who spoke first.
"You call yourself, Dotar Sojat, don't you, Jasoomian? It is a fine Thark name and you are, no doubt, a fine warrior. You have commanded men; that I can tell. I admire your courage. You draw your sword against overwhelming odds and not a glimmer of fear enters your eyes. I like that in a man. Why do you think that the experiment I spoke of would be of any harm? It is not in my best interests to hurt either one of you. The procedure to revive the girl can begin just as soon as you put down that blade."
The Earthman listened, but did not move his weapon.
"Call me whatever name suits you. I know treachery when I hear it. So long as this sword is in your ribs you stand at death's door, no matter how many radium guns your tin men may point at me. Give me your word that you will revive the princess and allow her speedy and safe return to Helium. Only then will I consider letting you live!"
"Spoken like a true soldier!" Vovo laughed. "Why of course you have my promise. In fact, I will make you a better one, Dotar Sojat. Once the girl has recovered and is on her way home, remain here with me. I will soon finish assembling another 10,000 mechanical men. With sufficient payment and resources from Helium, I can make 20,000 of the flying thoats within two years. I shall need a second odwar to lead the new cavalry division. Take a place in my army equal to Oman and enjoy a long life in your chosen profession, fighting man. I know these Heliumite ingrates. Once they have their daughter back they will throw you into a prison cell and you will rot there. Some dandy of a prince will marry her and she will forget you ever existed. Think it over, Dotar Sojat -- it is the opportunity of a lifetime!"
John Carter was having difficulty maintaining his balance. The room seemed to be turning in circles around him. Where once had seen a dozen armed robots, now there were but six. Oman had put away the pistol and held only a short sword. The Virginian felt that at any moment he might close his eyes, never to open them again, but still he did not lower his blade.
"Perhaps what you say is true, Wizard of Eo," he replied. "Perhaps the royal family of Helium will treat me with disdain and the princess may forget my name. None of that matters. I have made promises, both to her and to the green girl who accompanies us. It is a matter of honor and I do not intend to break my promises. However, if both girls leave Eo in safety and I see that they reach Helium without any further trouble from you, I will then consider your second promise. But not until all I have spoken has been accomplished."
"Then it is agreed, Jasoomian," chuckled the wizard. "Oman and I will perform the task. Ere this night is over the Princess of Helium and her Thark maid will be taken to her home by my flying device and you may return to enter my service when it suits you. Put away your weapon!"
CHAPTER 26: "LIVE OR DIE!"
Still John Carter held out his sword. In a room full of strangers and strange things it was the only thing he could trust. Vovo's promises may or may not be honest ones, but the steel in his hand had an honesty of its own and upon that known reliability the Earthman trusted. He now could see where the other handful of mechanical men had gone. While he had listened to Vovo's artful words they had circled around him. On every side he saw robots with drawn swords, inching their way toward him.
"Stop them," the Virginian ordered, "ere my sword divides you in two halves!"
The Earthman's tones struck terror into Vovo's heart. His smiles and ingratiating talk disappeared at once. The wizard felt the blade cutting into his rough green hide and he winced in pain.
"Halt! Halt!" the wizard cried into his microphone.
Oman and the other robots halted at their master's order. Not only did they cease their forward movement, but for the second time Captain Carter witnessed the bizarre scene of evidently intelligent minds going blank, like clockworks being shut down. Among all the robots only Oman's eyes continued to move.
"Vovo's will is our will," Oman chanted in a low monotonous voice.
"Now, wizard, if you wish to continue living," Carter spoke sternly, "you will revive the Princess Dejah Thoris -- now!"
Then Carter prodded Vovo back to the electronic decalcifying machine. Above the body of the princess was a glass enclosure. Vovo pointed to this and spoke.
"In your case I was able to inject the catalyst drug into your arms. But her skin will not accept an injection. She takes in air with a slow and shallow breath, so if I fill the glass chamber with the drug under a moderate pressure, it can be administered that way.
"Then do what you must," the swordsman answered. "But remember I am watching your every move."
"Your calcification was only a partial one, Dotar Sojat. Your bodily processes were not greatly interrupted. Her case is much different. I can remove the paralysis, but I cannot always guarantee perfect success when changing calcified tissue back to living flesh. Have patience, this will take some time"
With Dejah Thoris within the air-tight glass case, the wizard administered the drug in a gaseous form. Then he waited until he saw certain changes in the frozen girl's eyes. The minutes dragged on and finally John Carter lowered his antique blade. The only change in the vast room, so far, was that Oman had ceased his bothersome chant.
Vovo at last aligned the machine and pulled the switch. The healing rays moved from Dejah Thoris' head, down to her feet, and then back again. Carter waited breathlessly while the streams of bombarding electrons pierced the girl's body.
Under the glass enclosure John Carter could see a change taking place. Where before the maiden's body had been a dull gray, it was taking on a pinkish hue. At the same time, a thin translucent shell began to take form around the girl's skin.
"Look, Jasoomian!" Vovo practically screamed. "The petrifaction is coming out of her. When the enclosing sheath cracks open, your princess will be relieved of the curse wrought by the purple vapors of Go-La-Ra!"
The fighting man looked on in amazement. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the sleeping figure's firm breasts began to rise and fall. At her nose and mouth signs of moisture began to appear within the translucent shell. The color of her skin returned to its natural redness. Dejah Thoris took a deep breath and from her inconspicuous Barsoomian naval outward the enveloping coating cracked and fell away, like a sand castle dissolving in an ocean spray.
"Is it over?" questioned Carter. "Will she awaken now?"
"Are all the creatures of your primitive planet so impatient, Dotar Sojat?" The dwarf responded. "After I lift the glass you may do your part in the transformation. She cannot be awakened suddenly or her mind will never again function properly. How clear is the telepathy between the two of you?"
Vovo removed the air-tight enclosure and once again John Carter's senses were assailed by the powerful drug. For a moment he reeled with dizziness, but the gas and its effects upon him soon dissipated and he was himself again.
"I am still learning how you Martians project your thoughts, wizard. As you must know by now I can guard mine from your mental probing well enough. However, the princess and I have only shared small, brief episodes of thought transfer. It is something I know very little about."
"Then now is a good time to learn, my odwar."
The green man's big eyes took on an ominous, dominant look. He appeared to cough a little, above his microphone. Then he continued.
"Project your thoughts into her mind, Jasoomian. Although she sleeps her brain will sense your communication. But you must do more than just that. Open your mind, concentrate upon the princess only. Let her thoughts come to you. Do not try to understand them or organize them into any special pattern. The thoughts of a dreamer are random, they go where they will. But in a while she will become sensible of your presence and her dream awareness will begin to center upon you. Do you understand what I am saying?"
"Yes, I understand. But you have not said what effect all of this will have. I do not intend to take my eyes off you, Vovo. If you make one false move, you'll taste the steel of my blade."
"Oh, that would not be good," the little man said with a start. "But I believe you will trust the mental process when you experience how it works. Once you have entered into her dream, speak with her, tell her where she is and what is happening. Her thoughts will then begin to come together in proper order and she can awaken without the risk of becoming a madman or an imbecile. You love her; that bond has been more than evident since I met you out upon the desert. If she loves you in return, then the mental coupling will be a strong one. Lovers upon Barsoom have shared the dreams of their sleep for ages. Meet her in her dreams and then lead her slowly back to wakefulness."
CHAPTER 27: "TREACHERY"
John Carter saw the logic in Vovo's explanation of things. If he could help bring the princess back to her normal self, the Earthman was ready to try the experiment. However, a Virginia gentleman do not barge into a lady's private chambers unannounced and uninvited. His first mental efforts were merely an attempt to make his presence known to her.
The night wore on and he seemed to be making little progress. Dejah Thoris slept, undisturbed by Vovo's injections of dehydration nourishment. If she sensed the Earthman's attempt at telepathy she gave no indication of it. Then John Carter tried Vovo's second suggestion -- he made his mind a blank and listened mentally for her thought-words.
Neither Her Majesty Dejah Thoris nor Captain John Carter have ever divulged all that happened on that mid summer's night in Vovo's laboratory. No doubt their experience was a deeply personal and private one. Still, some description of the events of that night can now be given to the reader.
The Earthman was surprised at what came to him. The thoughts of the princess were more or less a fair reflection of what had been going on in Vovo's lab. She was aware that she was being revived from her earlier stony mumification. What was less clear was whether or not she sensed Captain Carter's presence at all. Finally a clear message took shape within his mind.
"John? Are you here? You must be far away!"
"Dejah Thoris!" his mentality answered back. "Yes, my princess. I am standing here beside you. Open your eyes and you shall see me."
"This is so strange, John, I open my eyes but all I see is myself sleeping. Where are you, my chieftain?"
John Carter could hold back no longer. The Princess Dejah Thoris, whose body had turned to stone, was at last revived. Now the Virginian took the maiden into his arms and lifted her head from the cold slab. Her eyes began to open but at first they did not focus upon the tall swordsman.
"My -- my throat is so dry," were her first words.
"Oh! I have been a bad host, have I not?" interjected the wizard. "Oman, put away your weapon and bring my finest wine. This is a time for celebration!"
Captain Carter supported the weakened girl as her feet touched the floor. She was barely able to stand and her arms grasped his neck in a feeble embrace.
"You must see me now!" cried the Earthman.
"Yes, I see you, John. But why are your eyes closed?" she answered, still in a daze.
The wine seemed to revive her senses. It was the first thing wet to pass through the man's lips in hours and he too felt invigorated by the heady Martian vintage. The couple did not notice that Vovo left his cup untouched. And, of course, Oman merely served the beverage, he had no tongue with which to taste such refreshment.
"You have performed a great wonder," said John Carter. "I shall bear witness to your genius and to the great debt the red men owe you. But you promised our safe release and now it is time for us to depart Eo. Tell your minions to allow our safe passage from this place."
"John -- Dotar Sojat, I am not so sure this little man has truly finished his work," the girl warned. "Something is very wrong here."
"He shall finish it, my princess. This sword remains unsheathed until his promises are fulfilled," exclaimed the Earthman. At the same time he again nudged the green wizard with the keen tip of the Orovarian steel.
Outside the laboratory, the couple saw a group of Vovo's mechanical robots silently watching the passing of their master. Now their eyes were no longer glazed and motionless. Each robot stared at them, as if ready to pounce, given the slightest signal from the Wizard of Eo.
The Earthman made Vovo call for the mechanical thoat. However, when it arrived and the window was opened to admit the flying device, John Carter realized that the tower had again been retracted and the window landing now stood at ground level. Nevertheless he forced Vovo up onto the contraption and then made good use of his strong muscles in vaulting the princess and himself into the saddle also.
"Make this thing fly!" he commanded.
"First we must direct it to an open space." John Carter heard the wizard say. "The vegetation and buildings here are too densely packed to allow for a proper ascent."
It was still night on Mars and neither of its hurtling moons had yet dropped over the horizon. For the first time the Earthman noticed how grotesque and nightmarish the city of Eo looked. Every building and feature had the appearance of an evil madness -- above every doorway and window was a leering stone likeness of the wizard.
Down a lonely narrow alley the mechanical beast moved, increasing its speed at John Carter's insistance and Vovo's order.
"Where is Sola?" asked the unperceiving girl. "Is she here in this place with us? What became of the giant bird. Everything is so hazy in my mind."
"The princess desires to join her friend and then we all shall proceed to Helium," Captain Carter informed the wizard. Then he listened for an answer.
"I fear your plan has a few kinks in it. The flying device cannot carry so many as you desire. See how much trouble it is having getting off the ground now, with only three passengers? Add a Thark and a calot to the load and you will never reach Helium. Nor can you pilot the flying device without much training. As for walkimg from here to Helium, chances are you'll never make it."
These words were hardly spoken when Carter saw the wizard push a button on the saddle. The mount suddenly collapsed, hurling its riders onto the red sward that bordered the pathway. Before they could rise they were enveloped by an armed squad of Vovo's mechanical men!
CHAPTER 28: "DEATHLESS FOES"
By what can only be described as a miracle, the Virginian managed to elude the many grasping metal hands and roll free of the struggle with Dejah Thoris in his arms. He attempted leaping, but it was not very practical among the tightly packed buildings. However, he managed to get ahead of the robots and, for the moment at least, Carter and the princess were free. Behind them the pair heard the the wizard screaming "Seize them!" but John Carter and the granddaughter of Tardos Mors continued their flight through Eo's unlit alleyways.
Dejah Thoris was rapidly regaining her senses and she better understood now what was happening around them. The girl knew that she was slowing John Carter, however. Even he could not fight off the robots, pick out an escape route and carry her all at once.
"Dotar Sojat, put me down; I can move on my own!" she cried.
"You are falling to the ground!" he replied. "Here, I'll pick you up!"
"No, I'm right beside you. Lead the way and I shall follow."
They came shortly to an open space -- a little plaza where both street lights and moonlight combined to provide a much better view of things. Indeed, Dejah Thoris, who could not even stand upon her own feet minutes before, was now running almost as quickly as her companion. The Earthman spoke words of courage to the girl, urging her to greater speed.
Just behind them the runners heard the voice of Vovo: "Stop, fools! You cannot escape my mechanical creations -- they will follow you tirelessly to eternity!"
The couple slowed their pace. On every side of the small open square stood at least a hundred of the mechano-men. More were pouring in from all quarters.
"He is right, John," Dejah Thoris admitted. "We will grow tired -- they never will. Between us we have two swords -- they have five hundred swords and spears. Many are carrying guns!"
"Where?" demanded the Earthman, incredulously. "I see no guns among them! But look, they have left an empty space behind them, over there!"
Suddenly Carter grasped the girl and wheeled. His earthly muscles sent the two of them in a high leap over the robot's heads. Once again they were free, but in the dark, unfamiliar maze of buildings and jungle, John Carter could find no escape route.
Dejah Thoris would point out an alley, but he would not see it. Carter would suggest a hiding place and the girl answer was that it was far too small. They seemed to agree on nothing, other than the night was very cold and the pathways very dark. Both of them wondered if the wine they had taken in Vovo's lab was blurring their perception, almost to the point of hallucination? With thousands of the invulnerable robots at Vovo's command, how could they hope to win?
"They are right behind us, John -- what shall we do now?" But her companon could give no answer. For the moment their only comfort was in knowing that they faced their fate together.
If calots can be puzzled, then Woola was puzzled in the extreme. Atop of the flat mountain his sensitive nostrils could detect no trace of human, green man, nor even of any other large animals. Here and there he happened upon a few insects, even a bird or two, but, to the many-toothed beast, the plateau's summit appeared to be virtually deserted. Yet, he could see the footprints of many men on the trail he followed. But which prints to follow? Some pointed one way and some the other. The Martian hound halted and stood in the middle of the path thoroughly perplexed. Then the wind shifted and his twitching ears caught the faint sound of clanking metal.
"One thing is for certain, I will not leave you, Dejah Thoris. Many days ago, in Korad, we agreed that our only chance of escape was to go together. But there is no time to speak of these matters now. The metal men are again surrounding us. See, they are over on our left now!"
"No, my chieftain, they are not. But on the right they are coming. And from behind. And I hear their sounds ahead of us as well!"
The noise of the chase was everywhere. It occurred to the two humans that all of Eo was alerted and from the workshops in the caverns below the city, hundreds more of the metal humanoids would soon emerg into the narrow streets. Carter and Dejah Thoris were cornered by the tireless mechano-men. They knew there was no place left for them to run, or leap, or hide.
The couple saw Vovo emerge from an alleyway. In his hand he held a brilliant radium torch. For many heartbeats the little green dwarf stood there, moving the light in slow circles across their naked figures. It took no great effort for them to discern the wizard's thoughts. He complimented himself on how well man's hands had healed and how the woman's exquisite body was now supple and free of all blemish. Her curves and clefts spoke the physical language of health, strength and womanly endowment. Vovo thought that the man was a splendid specimen of molded physique and stimulating potency. All of this the last Wizard of Eo had brought back to life. It would be a shame to destroy such good results, but the man was no longer of use.
At last Vovo spoke. He remarked that it was very cold out and that "Even the hot-blooded young wench must be freezing." The humans heard him order a mechano-man to find the girl a cape and to deliver her to his experiment site in the ruins. The he ordered Vovo to "dispose of the Jasoomian on the rubbish heap" and then to rejoin his master.
Oman, the Odwar of the Army of Eo, listened intently to his master. He raised his hand to carry out the command. Then he hesitated. In his memory he saw Eo as it had been hundreds of thousands of years before. He recalled the great ocean that lapped the shores of Isle Eo, and the beautiful birds, and the bands of playful, gentle six-limbed creatures who dwelt in the untamed forests. And the coming of the Cosoomians. That had been long ago -- long before Vovo's time.
To Oman had come the orders to dispose of the Earthman, but to deliver the princess for another of Vovo's experiments. But who was Oman? The mind of the metal man pondered that question. Who was he? Where had he come from? Why could he not picture his own form, in his memories of the timid green creatures, running wild and free through the protective rain-forests?
The humans noticed Oman's hesitation and looked on in surprize.
"Vovo's will is my will!" he called out. Then Oman made ready to kill John Carter.
CHAPTER 29: "FATAL SHAFT"
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 orluk.
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, unconscious.
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 false memories!
"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.
CHAPTER 30: "OUT OF THE NIGHT"
John Carter's calot continued to prowl the grounds around the circular metal building which was the top of Vovo's retracted tower. From the small windows high above him sounds and smells reached Woola, telling him that his master was close at hand. He could not leap to the level of those little openings, so the calot continued to search for another way inside.
A distant clanking sound alerted the beast to the approach of danger and he hid in the foliage while a troop of scentless men with shiny skin approached the silver edifice. A section of the walls slid open. The strange men went through the opening and it closed behind them. A short while later the process was repeated in reverse, but only one of the shiny men came through the opening. Woola bounded past the man-like figure knocking him to the ground. Almost simultaneously the walls slid back shut, crushing the man-thing to pieces. The calot did not stop to ponder the lucky event. Inside the walls the scents of John Carter and Dejah Thoris were much stronger. The watchdog warily made his way through the empty hallways, seeking the two humans.
Oman continued to watch over the unaware Jasoomian. Sooner or later Vovo would return and the metal odwar would have to face his wrath but that certitude did not presently occupy the robot's attention. He had opened the door to a vast store of knowledge, previously hidden from his thinking self and Oman was busy sorting out and cataloging that information.
The robot general noticed the Earthman stirring. He quickly changed his mode of thought, moved his sorting and cataloging cogitation to a lower brain level, while he focused all his watchful attention upon the man. Oman stepped back a few paces, in order to observe the unpredictable swordsman from a safe distance.
Suddenly Carter awakened; his head spun crazily. "Oman!" he exclaimed finally. "Your master sent you to finish me?"
The leader of the mechano-men stepped out of the shadows. With his hand upon his sword he looked down upon the Earthman.
"No, Dotar Sojat," Oman answered in his unchanging robotic monotone. "I have not obeyed Master Vovo's orders. You yet live. I need your help and you need my help. Let us work together to rid Eo of Vovo and to insure that you and the princess leave here safely. Of all Vovo's robots, my brain alone possesses the power of independent thought. Only I can lead you and Dejah Thoris to safety."
"Where is the Princess of Helium?" Carter demanded. "Before one of your robots attacked me she was by my side. Where has Vovo taken her and where have you taken me?"
"Believe me," he answered, "she is near by. So long as I am with you, none of my men will harm you. Nevertheless both of you are in great danger. I ask that you try and trust what I say, even if your senses tell you otherwise. The wizard has administered powerful drugs to you and the girl and they will affect your mind so long as Vovo has power in Eo. It is a delicate situation but I know how these perils may be overcome. First we must reunite you with Dejah Thoris and tell her of Vovo's clever deceptions. Until that can be accomplished the illusions that now plague you will only grow stronger."
"I do not understand what you're saying, neither I do not trust anything upon this weird mountain -- including you," replied the Earthman. He seized his long-sword and sprang to his feet, ready to do battle with the artificial man.
"Please, have a little patience and hear me out," pleaded Oman. "Not all you see, hear and feel is what you think. Eo is a place of deception and mirages. You think you stand with your sword, here in this place, ready to fight. But see what I can make happen by means of mental suggestion alone."
John Carter watched in wonder as his ancient steel blade shimmered with an ethereal radiance. Then it was gone! Before he could fully comprehend what had happened, the glow returned and an instant later he again held the long-sword at Oman's steel breast.
"What sorcery is this!" Carter cried out in a loud voice.
Woola searched the interior of the peculiar building, moving silently on his eight padded feet through a tangle of rooms and hallways, but he found no humans. Then, from the far end of one long passageway, he heard John Carter cry out. The calot bounded through the gloomy channel in the direction from which that faint sound came. After numerous twists and turns the corridor ended and Woola emerged into the light.
"Listen to me," begged Oman. "Your sword has been with you since you arrived at Eo. However, Vovo's wizardry can make things seem to appear and disappear. I provided you with a small demonstration of that wizardry, but this power of illusory suggestion is a dangerous thing. It will be best for you and the princess if together you can work your own way out of Vovo's mental labyrinth. I can but guard and guide you. Will you give me your cooperation?"
John Carter shook his head in disblief, but Oman continued to plead his case.
"Even now Vovo is making preparations to transform your red friend into one of his creatures. Just as he has controlled my thoughts and experiences for hundreds of years, he will manage her. When my mind first awakened in this metal body, the first thing I was taught was that a mechano-man must not kill any intelligent being. Long ago Vovo and another came to Eo and blinded the minds of all of us to that important basic teaching. Just a little while ago I was on the verge of killing you, Dotar Sojat. But a particle of my original instruction remained buried in my brain and I was saved from the wizard's perversions. Now Dejah Thoris is to be subjected to methods of mind control far exceeding any that Vovo inflicted upon the inhabitants of Eo. If the princess returns to her homeland in that condition, Vovo will use her as his puppet, to deceive and subvert all of Helium. You -- we must not allow his nefarious experiments to continue. If you value the safety and freedom of your princess and if you wish to save the red race from a great evil, now is the time for us to act. Follow my guidance and together we can stop this monster before he enslaves more minds and bodies!"
Then a savage roar rang out and Oman went down beneath powerful fangs and ripping talons.
The Princess Dejah Thoris saw that the mechano-men, led by Vovo, were carrying her ever deeper into the great ruined edifice. The disintegrating building was everywhere overgrown by the jungle, its foliage-covered, collapsed segments presenting an eerie sight in the darting beams of the robots' radium torches. Soon, however, the moving column passed into a less damaged part of the vast structure and the girl saw evidence of repairs and construction. Then the complex of roofless rooms and corridors opened into a great chamber, well illuminated and enclosed in a huge transparent dome. Here the throng of artificial warriors halted and Dejah Thoris silently awaited her doom.
CHAPTER 31: "STRANGE FOES"
At first John Carter had no idea of what was going on in front of him. He perceived noise and motion but the combination of thrashing limbs, animal roars and clanking metal was more than his drowsy senses could take in. Then his scattered thoughts came together and John Carter recognized his faithful old calot, Woola. The creature had leaped upon Oman, throwing him down. Now the two alien bodies were locked in a desperate struggle.
The Earthman sprang through the air toward the two combatants. In his groggy state of mind the short leap seemed to take a long time. It seemed as though he hovered over the two wrestling combatants for a time, before his feet struck the ground. Oman had managed to kick the calot away long enough to draw his sword.
"Dotar Sojat, your beast is attacking me!" exclaimed the struggling robot. "Give him your signal to stand down!"
Captain Carter made a second dive and again he felt his body floating through the heavy, spell-infected atmosphere of Eo. During that magical period the Earthman projected a strong telepathic command to the watchdog. Oddly, he alighted astride Woola. The calot began to grapple with him, but his calm words of reassurance soon quieted the growling beast.
Oman arose unhurt. He was evidently more concerned about the calot than himself. Once he was assured that the brute was not injured, he renewed his entreaty to Captain Carter.
"We have no time to waste," he said. "The noise may invite curious investigators. At any rate, Vovo will soon discover that I am in secret communication with you. if we do not act now. Join me in saving your princess from harm."
"What harm has the wizard planned for her?" Carter asked.
"No explanation I could give you here, now, would make any sense," Oman replied. "Things in this place are not as they appear. But your calot is truly here with us. I am also truly on your side. Believe me, Dotar Sojat. I must show you, step by step, or you will not believe and you will never leave Eo."
"Then lead the way, metal man. You say my sword arm is restored and that my long-sword has never left my side? that is all I need to know -- for now."
"Good!" answered the mechano-man. "The first step is to reunite you with Dejah Thoris before Vovo has carried out the next transformation he has planned for her. I must fetch the transport device. Can the calot keep up with you while you ride the mechanical mount?"
"Woola will follow my mental commands, Oman. I have instructed him to obey you also. Hopefully he will do that."
"Excellent," replied the robot. "I must make the necessary arrangements and determine exactly where Vovo will be when we confront him. I fear I cannot bring myself to kill an intelligent being, but you and the calot may subdue him as you think is best. Stay right where you are and I shall be with you again very shortly."
The Earthman waited in silence. He had no difficulty in believing that Vovo was a master of deception and illusion. He wondered for a moment whether the flying thoat and the television display he had seen might not be the green man's trickery. But, no; his sense of unreality only began after the wizard had injected him in the laboratory. And only after drinking the heady wine had his eyes began playing tricks. No doubt Vovo was indeed a great inventor, but he was also a great villain and John Carter did not share Oman's feelings of compunction over the need to run cold steel through the wizard's evil heart.
Oman prepared to obtain the transport device for the Jasoomian. He was Odwar of the Army of Eo and none would suspect his motives and actions, so long Vovo did not know. Now that the wizard had a suitable subject for his greatest human modification experiment, Oman was determined to stop any transformation of the red princess before the wizard could behin to harm her. He realized the pressing need to reunite the two humans as quickly as possible. The unexpected appearance of the calot might be helpful in reestablishing that union. The beast was devoted to both of them and it could help protect the red girl and the Jasoomian once they were together again.
The remarkable brain inside of Oman's metal skull was capable of performing several unrelated tasks almost simultaneously. While he had been conversing with the recovering Earthman and while he had been struggling with the attacking calot, his sorting out and recataloging of old memories had continued unabated. As his mental circuitry completed that complex operation, Oman understood better than ever the methods and effects involved in Vovo's web of mass delusion. He also realized how much his own unwitting complicity in the scheme, carried out over hundreds of years, had helped make Eo the slave state it had become.
Tapping into his restored memory, Oman recalled that the dwarf had first come to Eo, disguised as a female, in a trading party that exchanged radium for medicines and machined parts. The masquerading green boy had given no name, nor did he participate much in the bartering. Ten years later the same little man reappeared at the plateau, as the servant of a persecuted scientist whom the Wizards of Eo took in as a refugee and fellow savant. These wizards inhabited metal bodies much like the one Oman now possessed. In fact, it was from them that he had obtained his mechano-man frame and mental circuitry, eons before Vo Dor and Vovo were born.
Vo Dor was the name of the fleeing scientist. What story of woes he related to the wizards and why they had broken their own rule of allowing no outsiders to set foot upon the plateau, Oman knew not. For many years Vo Dor and his little assistant were inconspicuous technicians who mostly operated out of sight, in the mesa's cavern workshops, repairing and maintaining the growing number of true robots, dedicated to the wizards' service. Among all the metal men at Eo, only the wizards and Oman possessed living brains -- all the rest were artificial creations.
For unknown reasons, Vo Dor was elevated to a position among the wizards -- the only Barsoomian ever admitted. Shortly after that, the wizards went into permanent retirement. Oman now realized, in retrospect, that by some insidious trickery Vovo had taken Vo Dor's place as the last Wizard of Eo. Vovo had wiped out all traces of Vo Dor and the wizards from the mechanical brains of the artificial men. They became his obedient slaves. Only Oman preserved any semblance of independent thought. His more complex mind was a human brain augmented by the old wizards' technology. Vovo was not fully successful in controlling him.
All of this realization came together inside of Oman as he prepared his plan to reunite the two humans -- a plan which must not fail!
CHAPTER 32: "A GRIM EXPERIMENT"
Suddenly Vovo was standing over her, glaring down with his great red eyes. Dejah Thoris knew then that the little journey was over. Whatever was going to happen to her would soon begin. She saw the wizard was on a raised platform surrounded on three sides by strange equipment, control panels and viewing screens. The robots had placed her on a long stone bench below the platform and the girl sat there, trying to ward off the night chill under the folds of the thick cloak the mechano-man had handed her.
"What do you see around you?" demanded the little wizard of his captive.
"It looks much like the part of your laboratory in the tower where you removed the stony paralysis from my body -- only larger, with much more equipment and machinery. Overhead, beyond your platform, is what appears to be a vast glass enclosure. What is it that you want me to say? that I admire your collection bizarre inventions and contraptions?"
"Excellent! Excellent!" she heard him shout. "You have described the scene quiet nicely. And, yes, these are all my inventions. We are in the decaying remnants of Barsoom's first Atmosphere Plant -- the very spot where advanced science and technology were first implemented on our planet. The ruins you see around you were constructed when the five ocean basins yet held a little water and the air production equipment was put into operation before your ancestors completed the first long waterway linking the polar ice to the fertile spots of Barsoom. It is only fitting that this important spot of antiquity now serve as the scene of my greatest achievement. My manipulation of gravity is indeed a wonder, but my mastery over mind and matter will lay an entire world at my feet!"
One of the robots approached her without warning and tore away her robe. The princess shivered in the frigid air and prepared for the worst.
Oman returned with the transport device. It did not seem that he had been away for very long. At his feet trotted the wary calot. The time for action had come.
"Oman, if this be trickery at your master's bidding," declared John Carter, "my sword will shape thy carcass into scrap metal!"
"Listen carefully to my words, Jasoomian, and you will know that I play no tricks," replied Oman. "My brain now functions independently of Vovo's. There is more in me than mechanical parts. I also have my human side and that part of me hates Vovo just as much as you do. We will now make our move and surprise the wizard. Whatever fantastic scenes you may experience, hold firm to my direction. I will guide you and the calot through Vovo's web of delusion."
"I must believe you now," spoke Carter, "and I trust you to lead me to Dejah Thoris ere Vovo harms her!"
Their passage to the robot mount was a hazy journey for the Earthman. A quiet, dreamlike atmosphere pervaded the now deserted streets. Carter had leaped upon the strange creature's back in another of the slow motion experiences he was now becoming used to. Accompanied by Woola, he and Oman had raced off to intercept the Wizard of Eo. But once again the speedy motion seemed to slow to a crawl. The robot mount half-ran and half-flew through alleyways, streets and jungle but their progress was strangely uneven. Time itself appeared to be out of joint.
"I know we are moving quickly," said John Carter, "but we never seem to get anywhere!"
"Patience, Dotar Sojat! We are very near the red princess. Your perceptions are not exactly true ones now. Trust my words and prepare to do battle!"
Whether it took seconds or hours to reach the old ruins that night, the Virginian could never determine. However long it took -- and it must have been a very short time -- the interval upon the transport device gave the Earthman an opportunity to hear more of Oman's recollections.
When Mars was yet young the Isle of Eo was the final home of the six-limbed green creatures of her once great forests. The primitive green species had ruled primordial Mars before the evolution of true human beings, but in the planet's middle eons the green race dwindled to near extinction. On Eo, however, they lived on, during the times when the ships of men plied the waters of the five oceans. During the time of great changes, when the seas began to disappear, the wizards came to the island. There they built the first atmosphere factory to assist a threatened world. The immense factory pumped the gas composed of oxygen and carbon into the air, warming the atmosphere and stimulating the vegetation of Mars; those billions of plants, in turn, helped replenish the oxygen so necessary for animal life.
As the ages wore on, the oceans shrank into salt marshes and the mashes dried into barren deserts. The seas' plant life disappeared and the desert moss did not produce even a fraction of the oxygen the dying planet so desperately needed. In those days the red race built a great factory to pump oxygen and nitrogen into the skies. The Wizards of Eo helped, then they allowed their outmoded equipment to fall into disuse and disrepair. In time the first Atmosphere Plant became a forgotten part of the planet's long lost past.
Nobody knows where the Wizards of Eo came from, or even what they looked like before they fabricated their age-old mechanical bodies. Oman called them the "Cosoomians," but that was merely a term he came up with when he first encountered the strange beings. As he had done before them, they took up residence among the green creatures of the uncharted island. Like John Carter Oman did not know from whence he came or how old he really was. His first mental impressions were of a sailor's life and occasional residence in Go-La-Ra, but he had no distinct memories of those days of great antiquity. He had once lived a solitary life among the green creatures on the island -- that much he was sure of. Then the Wizards came.
Even before they began construction of the first atmosphere plant, the Wizards of Eo had taken a great interest in the green Martians. For ages they worked among them, guiding their breeding and development. It was only due to the continual assistance and stimulation of these creatures, from the Wizards of Eo, that they ever advanced to the point that they might be called "green men." When the wizards first found them, near extinction, in their last refuge on Eo, the green creatures could not reason, nor form societies, nor speak any sort of language.
During the time of great changes, the green men expanded in all directions from Eo, filling the salt marshes of Mars and becoming the planet's second most powerful intelligent life form. In those times they confined themselves to the vast swamps and seldom interacted with the human beings of the red planet. But when most of the wetlands had dried and turned to barren wastes, the green men began their unending war with the red men of Mars. So it came to pass, that the modern Tharks, Thurds, Torquasians, Warhoons and other green hordes remained the unknowing foster children of the Wizards of Eo, down to the days of Vo Dor and Vovo, the impostor, successor wizards whom Oman had served for a thousand years.
CHAPTER 33: "BOLD ATTEMPT"
Dejah Thoris struggled to prevent the robot from injecting the drug into her arm, but to no avail. Before the effects could further cloud her mind she demanded that the little wizard tell her what had happened to the Jasoomian, but Vovo avoided giving her a direct answer. All he would say was "You will never again see the one you call Dotar Sojat -- and soon you will be quite happy about that." Vovo then directed her attention away from such thoughts and to the cape the mechano-man had just taken from her.
"I will now give you a little preview of what is coming, granddaughter of Tardos Mors," she heard him say. "Watch carefully what happens to the robe you had wrapped about you."
The wizard pulled some switches on one of the control panels and the huge glass dome descended until its bottom rim was just a little above the ground. A robot threw the cape under the great enclosure and then Vovo lowered it until it hit the ground with a heavy thump. Next, Vovo's robots manipulated a ray projecting machine outside of the dome, aiming the end of its long beam shaft directly at the robe. At that point Vovo threw a switch and something impossible happened.
It appeared to John Carter that the mechanical mount was hovering in the air, a little above the tree tops, and that he and Oman were looking down upon a large transparent enclosure. Not far from this were Vovo, Dejah Thoris and a large number of Eo's mechanical men. The Earthman was ready to rush to the girl's defense at once, but Oman pointed out the many robots surrounding her. Vovo was in complete control of all of them. But he implored Carter to projected his thoughts to her, with all his will, and try to gain her response.
Oman scrutinized the faces of the two humans. If his plan was going to work, they must make mental contact at once. As soon as that happened he would distract Vovo and the three of them could move to end the wicked experiment before it began. But the girl seemed distracted -- so deeply under Vovo's spell that she did not perceive the arrival of her would-be rescuers.
Before her widening eyes the cape she had worn doubled in size; then it doubled again and again, until it was many times its original mass. Only when Vovo turned off the bombarding rays did the great heap of fabric cease its miraculous expansion.
"Now that you have seen my little preview, Dejah Thoris, perhaps your mind can grasp the fate I have in store for you. My mass-multiplier ray will increase your size, just as you saw the cape was expanded. At the same time I will take full control of your enlarged brain -- the largest, most complex and powerful brain on all Barsoom. It will be my pleasure to instruct that unique, pliant mind and to put its great analytical capacity to effective use in my service!"
"But have no fear," he continued, "I will not harm you. In fact, I have been careful to fine tune the multiplier's settings so that your expanded bones and muscles can support your new weight. I will do all of that without changing your present lovely proportions. If you will now be so kind as to step under the dome when I raise it, Princess of Helium..."
Vovo's mechanical robots carried the princess beneath the domed glass enclosure and left her there, flat on her back. The strong drug the wizard had given the girl had already made her oblivious to her impending fate. From his seat among the switches and controls, the Wizard of Eo began the count-down for greatest experiment.
Woola had gained the lead and was leaping straight toward the dazed girl. Sensing his master's anxiety for the princess, the Martian watchdog slipped under the descending glass enclosure at the last possible moment and raced to her side. Much to his dismay Woola found the girl unresponsive to his yelps. Then the wind rushed past him so quickly that his ears ached terribly. Poor Woola -- he had not the slightest premonition as to what was about to happen!
One by one Vovo flipped the switches and turned the knobs that set his carefully orchestrated process into motion. As the glass dome descended to its locked position, four enlarging ray shafts slid into position around the prone subject. Vovo made a slight adjustment in their aim in order to avoid expanding any more the already enlarged cape. The readings on his instruments informed him that he had enough organic compounds in storage to increase the maiden's mass by eight hundred percent, resulting in a new height of close to seventy-five sofads (75 ft.) and still leave a great deal of unused material in reserve. That amount of enlargement would result in the expansion of her brain's cerebral cortex by exactly the measure he wanted. He set the air pressure to compensate for the sudden increase in mass under the dome. The most delicate part of the operation centered in his making sure the there would be a sufficient number of new blood vessels of the correct size to adequately nourish the expanded body. He did not want to place any undue stress on the enlarged heart, so Vovo's last instrument adjustments set the new heart size to conform exactly with his finely calculated specifications.
All of these important observations and considerations occupied the wizard's attention so closely that he only looked up from the instrument readouts after the dome was locked into place. Of the five final switches on his control panel, Vovo had already flipped four of them into the closed position. Now his trembling green fingers hesitated over the fifth switch. Where had the calot come from? What was it doing beside his experiment subject? Vovo cursed aloud and with the other hand he reached for his radium pistol.
Oman was shocked when he witnessed the impulsive calot bound forward to the side of the semi-conscious maiden. His carefully conceived plan fell apart then and there. Vovo was just becoming aware of the interruption to his experiment, and before anything could be done to stop him his radium pistol would destroy any and all intruders. However, the robot had not even completed making that lightning fast conclusion when something was done to halt the detestable green dwarf.
Dejah Thoris watched the enclosure descend over her limp body, the enormous cape and all else that was within her field of view. For an instant it seemed as though she were back in Vovo's tower laboratory, where a much smaller glass had confined her body when the wizard performed her decalcification. But the sensation left as quickly as it had come and in its place was the absurd notion that Woola was beside her under the glass. Then her perception was assaulted by a maddening whirl of colors and flowing shapes. No longer able to gather her thoughts, the Princess of Helium surrendered her mind to insanity.
For less than a eye-blink's interval John Carter felt Dejah Thoris' thoughts enter his mind. It was a precarious, ephemeral contact, but it was all the reassurance he needed before plunging the flying metal thoat directly into the Wizard of Eo. Oman fell to one side as the mechanical mount fell out of the air. The Earthman felt as though the robot steed had disintegrated beneath him, leaving only Carter's flying body and outstretched sword to impact upon the living target of his malice. An instant later, amid the shattering of glass and the crunching of metal, the mechanical mount crashed headlong into the control area where the wizard sat.
CHAPTER 34: "FUTILE DARING"
"You've sealed their doom!" John Carter heard the little green man screaming. The Earthman's heavy fist sent the mad dwarf flying through the air, but not before the impact of Carter's body had forced the wizard's hand down upon the fifth switch on the machine control panel.
Vovo landed in a heap upon the floor, but he was not badly injured. All of his attention was centered on Oman, who was at that moment hurriedly flipping switches and turning knobs, attempting to halt the experimental process already underway.
"So, my trusted odwar, so show your true colors at last!" Vovo screamed. "I should have eliminated you years ago. But there is nothing you can do to stop the action of my machines upon the bodies of the princess and that interfering calot. Already the switches have been thrown that lock the enclosure in place and activates the expansion beams."
Oman ceased his attempts to terminate the experiment. Vovo was correct in saying that nothing could be done to stop what had been set in motion. However, that fact alone did the green wizard little good. His domination of Eo was effectively finished.
"What your hands have caused to happen other hands may yet reverse." Oman replied. "Even now your experiment goes forth with all of the controls inoperative. But when it is concluded I shall find a way to remedy the results. Where are your radium pistol and your transmitting microphone now, Master Vovo. See, they are here at my feet. This is the end of your cruel rule, for now I shall govern the mechano-men as the true Wizards of Eo intended they be led!"
John Carter heard these reassuring words, but his attention was focused upon the Princess of Helium. Beneath the glass enclosure she was at that very moment being bombarded by Vovo's terrible ray machines. The Earthman gasped in horror as the unnatural glow inside the glass intensified and the bodies of the red princess and the calot went rigid and began to quiver violently.
"At last!" cried the wizard. "At last all Barsoom will hail my genius! My five hundred years of labor were now bear fruit!"
Dejah Thoris and Woola were growing visibly in size. As though enlarged by the sudden imposition of a great magnifying glass, the two bodies quickly doubled in mass. Dejah Thoris appeared unmindful of the unstoppable metamorphosis but Woola was anxious beyond measure. Then there was another period of intense shaking, accompanied by the pitiful sounding cries of the Martian watchdog.
"Is there nothing we can do?" cried the Earthman in bitter anguish.
"Remember that I told you things are not always what they seem on the forbidden plateau of Eo," the mechanical man replied. "You are seeing only one aspect of all that is happening; I perceive many things your mind cannot now comprehend. I can also tell you that Vovo has tried this experiment before, with much smaller, inanimate subjects. The effects need not be permanent. There is yet hope for your princess.
The second doubling of the glass-enclosed bodies stunned the calot into a stupor almost as immobilizing as Dejah Thoris' drug-induced trance. After that there was no more yelping, but the whole area was plagued with bone-piercing vibrations that caused walls to tumble and objects to crash throughout the vast pile of ruins. Through all of this as many as two hundred of the mechano-men stood, gazing straight forward, as though they were statues. A large piece of machinery fell over upon several of them. This accident caught Vovo's attention and he gave the command that reactivated the crowd of robots. Thenceforth they protected themselves from danger but did nothing else of any consequence.
When the final doubling was concluded the thick glass of the dome began to crack from the internal pressure, sending forth a loud concussion. For several seconds the observers could only watch in suspense as the thin break-lines spread all across the glassy surface. At the same time the buzzing and humming of Vovo's many pieces of equipment fell silent and the incandescent lights flickered out, leaving the area bathed in the eerie luminescence of numerous unfailing radium bulbs of great antiquity. In this uncanny radiance the unmoving maiden and calot presented the appearance of a giant tableau -- like a great prehistoric monolith, carved by the elements into a semblance of man and beast.
Finally the entire dome came crashing down, but in a snowfall of fragments so small as to cause no being present any serious injury. So there in the vast open area, covered in sparkling particles of glass were the giant forms of Dejah Thoris of Helium and Woola the calot from Korad. Nothing moved. Nobody spoke. Even Omen was temporarily at the enormous transformation. At length Woola coughed and shook his gigantic body, sending a torrent of glass fragments into the ranks of the mechano-men and causing many of them to move away in self protection.
Vovo appeared to have gone totally mad. He jumped about in mindless exuberance, gibbering over and over about his great intelligence. When John Carter could take no more of the idiotic behavior, another swing of his fist sent the raving wizard back to his previous spot upon the ground.
"If only Vo Dor could have lived to see this!" Vovo raved on. "He never would believe that inanimate mass could be multiplied, let alone a living thing's size and weight be doubled three times. And look at them -- they are still alive! I regret now having earlier disposed of my inimical predecessor; he should have died better aware of my superior intellect!"
Nobody paid any further attention to the deranged wizard, but Oman at last spoke to John Carter about another matter of greater importance and greater danger.
"You must do what you can to control this monstrous calot, Dotar Sojat. The princess is awakening from the drug that Vovo administered and no doubt she will respond to reason. But the animal will be confused. His insides may ache; or he may be enraged; and he may do great damage if he is not restrained. Never before on the plateau of Eo has there been such an unnatural menace on the loose.
CHAPTER 35: "BEAUTIFUL GIANT"
In the aftermath of the transformation only two beings understood fully all that had happened. These were Vovo, who planned and executed the experiment and Oman who knew that the wizard's primary purpose was to couple his successes in thought control with new advances in mind expansion. The incredible giants that John Carter now saw in front of him were merely physical byproducts of Vovo's desire to create and control a multitude of super brains. The last minute inclusion of Woola in the experimental transformation, however, was a complication the wizard could not have anticipated and which Oman was totally unprepared to deal with. What results would come from the expansion of the mind of a vicious brute, only one step removed from the wilds of savage Barsoom, nobody could have possibly predicted. John Carter, however, realized that he must assert his previous mastery over the Martian watchdog immediately -- even before he could take the time to comprehend what has happened to Dejah Thoris.
"Woola, come here!" the Earthman shouted at the top of his lungs.
But he was like a tiny insect, seeking to attract the attention of a huge zitidar -- Woola responded neither to his vocal commands nor to his mental appeals.
"In their transformed state they will not hear your puny attempts to communicate!" Vovo, the crazed wizard screamed. "You cannot stop them, not even with the guns of the mechano-men. These giants will crush you into dust without even recognizing you!"
The little green man again began jumping about delightedly. His purpose in carrying out the transformation was to create a tremendous force which only he could control, but with the loss of his transmitting microphone no person could control the monster calot and the metamorphosed human female. And if he could not direct their actions, it well suited his destructive intentions that nobody could control them.
There had been few other moments in John Carter's life when he felt so totally helpless. Nothing he might possibly do now could help the situation in any way. His only hope was that Oman would think of something -- anything -- that might keep the situation from growing any worse.
"Oman!" he cried out, "can you use the wizard's microphone transmitter to control Woola before he does something terrible!"
The mechanical man shook his head slowly, in the robotic approximation of the human gesture of frustration and sadness.
"The connections Vovo inserted for communicating with Dejah Thoris after her transformation have all been ripped loose. It would take time to repair them. But worse than that, Vovo designed no means of controlling something like an expanded calot. Our only hope lies in you, Dotar Sojat. You must find a way now to establish contact with both of the giants. There is no other way, unless -- unless we use Eo's deadliest forces to subdue what is otherwise uncontrollable!"
But there was no time for talking. Woola was no longer stupefied. The giant beast began to move and as he did his eight massive feet literally shook the ground upon which he walked. A savage fire burned in the brute's eyes. He looked down upon the moving mechano-men with the fierce rage of a tormented carnivore. Then he leaped upon the tiny things.
The Princess of Helium opened her eyes very slowly. Nothing in her surroundings looked familiar in the least. Her ignorance and innocence was that of a hatchling when the shell first begin to break. Her first perception following the inexplicable transformation had been when her ears picked up the sound of the great glass dome rupturing and falling into pieces. From the debris of that implosion she now emerged -- stunned, disoriented and intensely curious about everything around her.
As if by instinct the giantess reached for the expanded cape and used it to brush the glistening shards of glass from her hair and skin. Then, throwing the warm garment over her shoulders she arose from the rubble of Vovo's final experiment. At arm's length stood the bristling calot. Dejah Thoris knew at once what to call the creature and unsummoned, automatic knowing surprised her. What surprised her even more was that she felt no fear of the many-toothed monster. She intuitively understood that the "Woola" thing would not harm her. And, in the midst of much that was strange and confusing, her unsought familiarity with the beast's form and function, even his name, gave the transformed Dejah Thoris her first reliable point of reference.
The great calot was so preoccupied with the tiny figures which now were scurrying in droves away from his tremendous claws that he did not respond to the giantess' first words:
"Poor beast, where did you come from?"
The enlarged Martian watchdog continued his leaping and swatting. Tens of the robots perished with his every blow and a moment later those that were not crushed to pieces had taken refuge in whatever nooks and crannies they could find.
Probably an entire book might be written concerning the mental changes that accompanied Dejah Thoris' unexpected transformation. The Princess of Helium has provided reminiscences of only a small portion of her mind-altering experience, but from what she and others have recorded, it is evident that the gradual increase in her awareness and comprehension was something really quite wonderful. However, this great extension of her thought processes came at a price -- in the beginning she had no idea of where she was, who she was or what she should do next.
On the floor, far below, the giantess saw the tiny creatures scattering in the wake of Woola's pounces. It was to these little things that she first turned her burgeoning powers of observation and insight. Their tiny bodies were shaped like miniature replicas of her own, though simplified and of some different substance. Their movements showed evidence of design and purpose. Truly these were creatures not totally unlike herself.
All the little two-legged figures had scattered except for the smallest of them all -- a tiny green being, which trembled in the beast's path, unable to run on its two misshapen lower limbs.
"A being!" the giant princess mused to herself. "What is a being? Something alive; something that responds. And what else? Something that can reason, perhaps; something intelligent, like a person..."
"Stop, Woola -- do not harm the little thing! It is a defenseless person!"
But the girl's warning came too late. The massive brute had already hurdled himself upon the small green figure. Entrapped in the calot's outstretched claws lay Vovo, the last Wizard of Eo.
CHAPTER 36: "VOVO'S HARVEST"
Mars is not a world where people often reflect upon such subtleties as vindication and irony, but Vovo's defeat came more in Dejah Thoris' plea for restraint than it did in the unrestrained force of Woola's mighty paw. The wizard had expanded the girl's mind in hope of creating an ultimate weapon, never realizing that an expanded consciousness might be accompanied by expanded prudence and compassion. But the green man had no chance to contemplate the justice in his final failure -- the calot's weight crushed out the wizard's life and Barsoom was rid of one of her many dangerous monsters.
The speedy Martian dawn broke over Eo, bringing both a new day and a new era for the hermit city. While the tiny beings at her feet were yet hidden in the fading shadows, Dejah Thoris watched the red light appear and intensify across the far horizon.
"How beautiful!" she exclaimed. "I'm not sure that I ever before realized just how beautiful our sunrises can be!"
But then she again wondered who she was and what concepts like "before" and "our" really meant. Preceding the day there was a night -- a night that just ended. What had happened during that night, her dazed senses could not yet tell her. The gleam of the morning sun upon the rooftops of the city caught her eye and the giantess, accompanied by the huge calot, wandered off to investigate.
Of all of Eo's mechanical inhabitants only Oman could feel anxiety. His concern over the great damage the uncontrolled calot might do was only slightly relieved by his witnessing the maiden's good influence with the creature. The robots the animal had so far damaged could be repaired or replaced, but the Odwar of Eo knew that Vovo's evil methods must never be replaced by any similar mind control. As the new leader of the mechano-men he had to insure their safety and protect the city, while avoiding the corrupting influences demonstrated in the rule of the little green tyrant. So it was a different kind of anxiety that Oman ordered two of his most highly advanced robots to repair Vovo's microphone and bring the important device to him in the city with all possible speed.
Before sunrise John Carter had tried every method he could think of to gain the attention of Dejah Thoris, but nothing worked. Employing the lifting power of a band of the mechano-men he and Oman had struck the giantess' foot with the trunk of a fallen tree, but she ignored the slight discomfort altogether. Even when the Virginia fighting man leaped as high as he could and shouted with all his strength, the giantess did not hear him. Finally, he had attempted mental contact, but the results were not very useful. He could perceive some of her confused thoughts but, so far, the giantess had not responded with any telepathy of her own. As for Woola, the sight of Vovo's crushed body told the Earthman that it might be best to avoid the angry calot's notice until the could be properly restrained.
Captain Carter could see both giants crashing through the jungle in the direction of the little city, but, as the height of the princess was a little lower than that of the taller trees, he soon lost sight of Dejah Thoris. The two huge bodies made such a wide trail through the dense vegetation however, that it was not difficult to follow their path. Here and there the large footprints had broken through the topsoil, exposing broken ceilings trampled rooms and in Eo's cavernous complex of underground factories and storage rooms.
"Oman!" he called to the leader of the robots, "can you raise Vovo's tower? I think that activity might attract Dejah Thoris' attention. She and Woola must be approaching the edge of the city about now. If we hurry we can try to intercept them!"
The mechano-man nodded in assent and the two of them ran together, through the trees, to the outskirts of Eo. Along the way Oman again impressed upon the Virginian the fact that Vovo's web of illusion had not been entirely destroyed by the wizard's death. Dejah Thoris was obviously still very much affected by Vovo's drugs and his mind expansion process. As for John Carter, he could be assured of Woola's arrival, Vovo's death, and other basic events he had witnessed, but Oman was adamant in saying that the Jasoomian's perception was still impaired. Only when he departed Eo would he comprehend all that had happened there.
Still dazed by Vovo's drugs and mind-expanding experiment, the Princess of Helium wandered almost blindly through the city of Eo. Many of the streets were quite narrow and most of the higher buildings reached almost to her shoulders, so her movements among them were slow. The racing Earthman and metal man reached the vicinity of the late wizard's tower a couple of minutes before the giantess wandered into that quarter of Eo.
"Make certain that the large window on the top floor is opened. I will signal the princess through that, once the tower reaches the level of her head."
With those words John Carter sped into the metal building and awaited its elevation. True to his word, Oman caused the unique structure to rise to its full size, above every other edifice in the city. Tearing a wall handing and its rod from an interior wall, John Carter fashioned a makeshift flag and this large signal banner he carried with him to the open window.
The princess proceeded with caution through the maze of buildings. Here and there she saw some of the little robots in the streets and in open windows. She forbade Woola to injure the tiny creatures and the calot did his best not to trample the things. When they came to a plaza the giantess ordered the beast to remain there. At that time Dejah Thoris saw the silver tower rise into the air above the city and she moved near the wonder to see what it was. The window in which the Earthman stood, waving his signal flag, was above her eye level, however, and the giantess missed seeing him.
None of his shouting reached the enlarged girl's ears as intelligible language. Twice she uttered words to the calot, but this communication reached Captain Carter's ears only in the form of a low rumble. The single word he could distinguish in the thunderous noise was "Woola." The bronzed swordsman measured in his mind the distance from his perch to the maiden's huge head, then, gambling desperately with fate, he leaped toward the girl's raven locks.
While wandering through the buildings the princess was a little amazed that she was able to identify and name practically all the architectural features. She comprehended that the structures had been built by beings much like herself and a dim recollection came to her mind that once she herself had lived in such a place. It seemed inexplicable to her, however, that an entire city had shrunk to such an extent that she could look over the tops of its many buildings without even raising her eyes. Something extraordinary must have happened -- but what?
She felt something irritating near her ear and instinctively she swatted the little pest. Dejah Thoris had no way of knowing that her giant fingers could crush the man who now clung to her flowing hair.
CHAPTER 37: "A DIZZY RIDE"
Eo is a very old city. There was a small port on the island before the Martian seas dried up and it became a plateau. That port was built by the white race when Horz was yet sending its fleets to ply the five oceans of ancient Barsoom, but it eventually crumbled to rubble and was forgotten. In its place, a short distance away, the city of Eo eventually sprang up, obliterating forever the last forest nests of the six-limbed green species. It is perhaps incorrect to call the collection of buildings that Vovo ruled over a "city." More correctly Eo is an expansion of the tiny settlement that grew up alongside the first Atmosphere Plant -- a settlement never open to the knowledge or inspection of the red planet's other inhabitants. From times of great antiquity its only denizens were the mechano-men and their wizard masters.
The metal men continue to tend the primordial forests of the plateau, watering them with precious liquid pumped from deep below the surface of Mars. A by-product of this supervised irrigation is to be found in the little lake located between the urban center and the ruins. The lake is an artificial basin of great antiquity and it is one of the few bodies of water left uncovered on the dying world. In her rambles to and from the city the giantess spotted this inviting pool and it was to its banks she directed her steps after looking over the silver tower and losing interest in its featureless walls.
Meanwhile John Carter had leaped from the top of that same tower to the girl's head and there he had narrowly avoided being crushed to death by a random swat of her immense hand. Breaking his fall, the man tangled his hands in the maiden's hair. Each strand was the size of a rope to him and used these to swing himself down beside her ear. Then he shouted words of greeting to her, in deep, low tones imitative of her own rumbling voice. But Carter's utterance was haplessly lost in the thundering roar of a falling building.
Woola had displayed extraordinary patience for a calot, waiting in the plaza as directed by Dejah Thoris. When he saw her leaving the city he naturally bounded up to her side, knocking over one of Eo's older masonry structures, and it in turn, crashed into two steel-ribbed buildings. They withstood the impact but the horrible crashing and reverberation drowned out Carter's words completely. Again the girl swatted the little irritation on the side of her head and again John Carter jumped for cover in her long tresses.
More and more her reasoning powers were sorting themselves out in the girl's transformed mind. It suddenly occurred to her that in her youth she had been called "Dejah," but she was not yet able to recall who it was who gave her that name. Instead of following up this important realization, the giantess sought water to cool her parched throat. With Woola scampering at her heels she made a path through the breast-high trees to the wizards' reservoir. Dejah Thoris threw herself down beside the inviting pool and splashed the cooling waters upon her face, while Woola circled round, leaving his many footprints in the soft earth along the water's edge.
The Virginian's hold in her smooth hair was a precarious one at best and he felt it slipping as the girl splashed copious quantities of water upon her face and locks. When she lowered her head to drink, the Earthman was washed into the churning waters of the reservoir.
More than anything else that day, it was seeing her own reflection in the water of the Pool of Eo that jolted the maiden's suppressed memories. Gazing at that perfect face with its deep red skin and dark brown eyes, Dejah Thoris was reminded of her own mother and with that reminiscences came a flood of thoughts, filling up the vacant spaces in her altered consciousness.
"How silly of me, to forget even who I am!" she blurted out. And then, right after that: "Woola, where is Dotar Sojat?!"
The dumb beast lifted his head in recognition of his master's name, but he could only offer whines and yelps in response. More and more herself with each passing moment, the princess probed the calot's thoughts with her own magnified perception, but all she could fathom was that the Jasoomian must be nearby. She had last seen him in the city -- or was it in Vovo's laboratory? And what had become of Vovo?
"Something very strange has happened to us, Woola," she said, again speaking to the unanswering beast. But, of course, he could neither understand nor answer her.
"Look at the trees! How small they are! And in the water, the bubbles are so tiny. Can it be that the entire mountain has shrunk to the size of a hill? No, that does not explain the size of the bubbles and the minuscule ripples along the water's edge. Woola! We have grown -- we are giants! What a nightmare is this!"
Oman, accompanied by fifty of the mechano-men, sought the Princess of Helium. Around his neck was slung Vovo's microphone transmitter, now fully operative again. He found it useful in directing the movements of his men from a distance, but the Odwar of Eo was especially eager to try using the device to communicate with the giantess. Before his death the wizard had improved the apparatus so that it did more than simply send wireless signals to mechanical brains. Vovo had foreseen the need to communicate directly with the expanded mind of the victim of his experiments and the microphone could now theoretically provide that crucial link. At least Oman hoped it would.
John Carter had exercised his earthly muscles in running and leaping on the red planet, but this was his first opportunity to try swimming. Indeed, he had not seen so much water all in one place since he and Powell had crossed the Gila River back on Earth. His powerful arms and legs propelled him rapidly through the frigid fluid, which was still covered in places with a paper-thin layer of ice from the night before. All the while he continued his attempts to project his thoughts to the mind of the red princess.
He was unprepared for her first response when it finally came.
"John -- I sense that you are near. I cannot see you. Has your size also increased? Oh, Dotar Sojat, where are you?"
Oman and his troops arrived near the princess. Across the space that separated them the mechano-man saw the princess, turning her uncomprehending head to and fro as though she were searching for something. He would have to come nearer to use the microphone effectively, but the Odwar of Eo was wary of the dangerous calot. He and his men approached the transformed girl very slowly, keeping an escape route open in case the calot charged them. At the rear of his column two large robots carried special powerful rifles -- he hoped they would never have to fire them.
CHAPTER 38: "INTO THE DEPTHS"
John Carter skimmed across the water's surface, more rapidly than any Barsoomian swimmer could have imagined possible. Then again, the last Barsoomian swimmer died when the human inhabitants of earth were still learning how to cook with fire.
A few dozen body lengths ahead of him he could see the legs and sandaled feet of the princess. He had to lift his eyes to see more of her massive form. Still his mind sent out thoughts to the giantess but their mental connection was confused and sporatic. He caught hold of random images and ideas, but they were not effective communication. She sensed that he had seen her sandals -- then her mind wandered off in surprise that the footware had been enlarged along with her feet. Carter was terribly frustrated but he continued his efforts to master Martian telepathy. But, no matter that, he soon would be close enough to leap out of the water and upon her seated body. She certainly would recognize him then!
Woola tired of his play in the mud and moved toward the reservoir to quench his thirst. Under normal circumstances on the red planet a calot might live a long life and never feel the splash of any liquid upon its rough tongue other than hot blood. Nevertheless, every Martian animal retains an instinctive understanding of what water is, and when they encounter the rare liquid they of course know how to drink it.
"Don't be afraid, foolish calot! A little water won't hurt you!" the girl called out. So long as Woola and she stayed together she felt that they would soon locate the Jasoomian, even if he were as small as she now suspected he might be.
The huge beast splashed headlong into the reservoir, obviously enjoying the unique sensation of experiencing a liquid in such vast quantities. The abrupt entry of all his tons of living flesh into the little lake created waves half as high as himself and many times the height of the unseen swimmer. A mighty wall of water loomed above the Earthman. It flung him bodily upward, backward, and then buried him deep within its wake. Over and over Carter was tossed in the angry, churning waters. Wave after mighty wave rushed over him until Woola's body ripples diminished and their effect grew less powerful.
The unexpected onrush of water not only knocked the breath from the swimmer's lungs, it filled his head and throat. His lungs screamed for air as he shot up toward the light. John Carter at last broke the surface, coughed out the suffocating liquid and gulped in the thin air of Mars. The turbulence of the disturbed pool, however, again and again pushed him downward, robbing him of breath and strength. He lost all sense of direction, struggling just to keep his head above water long enough to draw a breath. Eventually, though, he realized he had made his way nearer to the shore,
With his strength rapidly draining away, the Earthman made a final, desperate effort to reach the land. The moving water continued to batter him but he knew he was almost there. In the midst of this watery chaos Captain Carter beheld Woola's great muzzle directly above him. At the worst possible moment, the calot's tongue extended down to lap in the water and the weakened, floundering Earthman was drawn straight toward the beast's cavernous gullet.
Sleeping soundly in the shade of the high cliffs, Sola did not feel the sun's warmth upon her green skin until late in the morning. She looked about for Woola but could not find him. That was not unusual. The calot was a born hunter and only John Carter's direct commands could compel him to stand still when the scent of new prey was in the air. She tended to the thoat and awaited Woola's return. But he did not come. The green girl was alone and once again she sensed that her two human friends might be in danger. In a place where thoats were made of metal and flew through the air, who knew what perils faced the trusting traveler?
The Thark maid was beginning to feel guilty as well as anxious. It was she who chose the escape route from her people and she who had picked the campsite where Dejah Thoris was abducted. Her suggestions took them first to Go-La-Ra and now to the forbidden Plateau of Eo, from whence only females return to relate its legends. They had spent only one happy night since their entry into the capital city of Thark and Sola wondered if any of the three companions would ever again feel that same happiness.
The Wizard of Eo had warned her and Woola to approach no closer to his mysterious realm, but now the calot was gone and was probably roaming the forbidden mountain. Should she follow or should she wait? Sola searched the skies for the unlikely appearance of flying thoats -- and waited.
Dejah Thoris searched the banks of the reservoir with her eyes, looking for the form of her chieftain, even if he should be no larger than the little metal men who lived in the city. She knew he was close by. Three times now she had caught his thoughts and she was certain that he was looking for her also. But it did not occur to her to cast her gaze out upon the surface of the pool. She rose to her feet and looked practically everywhere else.
The princess at last saw the little band of metal men. She recognized Oman as the robot whose spear had pinned John Carter to the door but she did not see Vovo among the throng of tiny figures. She was contemplating what to do about the intrusion when Oman's voice came to her.
"Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, it is important that you listen to me?"
She did not know how to respond. The voice of the tiny creature had not arrived as sound in her ears; neither was it mental telepathy. The words simply came to her silently, as her own memories came to her. The red girl was uncertain that her voice would be heard as intelligible speech to beings so small, so instead of calling out an answer she raised her hand in what was the universal Barsoomian sign for agreement.
"Dejah Thoris, you and the calot are victims of Vovo's expansion experiment, but the effects will not last forever. There is yet hope if you will heed my words. Your calot killed Vovo. I am concerned that he will injure us as well. The Jasoomian was with me just a short while ago. Now I cannot communicate with him. Will you hold back the calot and help me re-establish contact the one you call 'John Carter'?"
Again the girl gave the same sign. Then she turned her attention to Woola and what she saw made her blood run cold!
CHAPTER 39: "DRINK OF DOOM"
Oman, at the head of his troop of mechanical men, looked on helplessly as John Carter sought to swim clear of Woola's lapping tongue. But all of the Jasoomian's struggles were in vain -- he was on death's doorstep.
The giant princess had already become aware of this tragedy in the making. Looking down from her great height upon the water's surface, she could just make out the struggling figure that was John Carter. How tiny he was; no wonder she had missed seeing him previously! Before the man could be drawn into the calot's mouth, she quickly reached down grasped him by one foot. Then, dangling him upside down through the air, she cautiously placed the man in the palm of her other hand. It was only then that the full horror of her own predicament dawned upon the giantess. In a moment of distraction or carelessness she might easily crush the life out of the one man on all of Barsoom that she truly loved!
"Have I hurt you by lifting you up so roughly?" she cried out.
But to John Carter her words were but a moist rush of air, rumbling past his ears like a series of thunderclaps.
It was then that Oman interjected his instructions into the one-sided conversation. Using Vovo's microphone he explained to the girl that she must alter her manner of speaking and follow her words with telepathic projections. By this means she might talk to the man and he might soon learn how to understand her. Again Vovo assured the giantess that the transformations wrought by Vovo's experiment would eventually fade away.
"Fear not, Dejah Thoris," he said. "When the effects of Vovo's drugs and rays wear off, you will see your size and that of the calot return to normal. What I say to you may not always seem to make much sense, but believe me, I understand your situation far better than you and the Jasoomian can. I cannot always see things as you may see them, because I now stand apart from the web of delusion Vovo so carefully designed. But you and he are together again and can help each other to overcome these unfamiliar difficulties. Trust what I have just told you and there is hope for you and Dotar Sojat!"
For the next several minutes the most unlikely conversation imaginable took place, with Oman, Dejah Thoris and John Carter all trying desperately to communicate with one another. The giantess soon learned how to discern the Earthman's high-pitched words. So long as she held him close to her head most of his speech was intelligible. But the girl had much greater difficulty in making her speech understood by either of the little beings. Oman's brain was so augmented by robotic circuitry that he had totally lost the telepathic abilities that all Barsoomians are born with and share, at least to a small degree. As for the Jasoomian, he could receive her thoughts but he had little talent for putting them together in a way that made any sense to him.
Slowly, after much trial and error, the frustrating process became somewhat less difficult and the three persons began to exchange words they could all understand. Even Woola joined in the odd interaction. With a puzzled look upon his great ugly muzzle he scrutinized his old master and after considerable sniffing and some inscrutable calot cogitation, accepted him as the John Carter he had known under much different circumstances.
The giantess took Oman into her other hand and lifted the him to the same level as John Carter. Then she asked both of the men for their advice about what to do next.
Solemnly Oman spoke: "I was chosen and equipped to lead the mechano-men long before Vovo was born. Now that he is gone I have resumed my position as leader of this strange population. There is much work to be done here. I hope to solve the mystery of what happened to the true Wizards of Eo and I think I must redirect the robots from their age-old dealings in the weapons of war. In the meanwhile I wish the two of you to remain and accept the friendship and hospitality of the Odwar of Eo and all the mechano-men, who are at your service. In time your minds and bodies will be totally free of Vovo's pernicious manipulations. Then you may take the path to Helium, northwestward from the Plateau of Eo across the dead sea bottom. I can send tireless protectors with you and even guide your way with the mechanical birds Vovo constructed. Once the flying thoat has been rebuilt, perhaps you might even make use of it for speedy passage to your destination."
Then John Carter offered his suggestion: "Oman's offer is a generous one, but I wish to be gone from this place as soon as possible. We left Thark in great haste, with little help and practically unarmed. It is no great wonder that we have met with so many unexpected difficulties. But now we have an opportunity to regroup, see to our needs, and complete our journey to Helium in greater safety. Oman worries that we do not see our present plight very clearly, but my feelings are that the sooner we leave this place the more quickly our minds will be clear of its sorcery. A being fifteen times my height can travel many times faster than we did previously. With a monster like the giant Woola at our side I think we shall be as safe as any travelers can hope to be on this savage planet. I am for leaving now, despite all that Oman has offered."
Then Dejah Thoris made her decision. Not only did her years of royal training induce her to take command, but her recent transformation now made her the obvious leader.
"Dotar Sojat, you have risked life and limb to rescue me more than once and I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never fully repay, no matter how long a life lies before us. I too wish to leave this place. I was happy in the desert and I would be happy to return to that uncertain life, were it not for the fact that the fleets of Helium are now put at great risk in their continual searching for me. I am hopeful that a being of my size will be seen and recognized by those engaged in that massive search, ere we travel a single day in the direction of my homeland. But you, John -- You are obviously exhausted. Have you eaten anything since you journeyed to Go-La-Ra in search of me? Have you had an hour's decent sleep since you left that terrible place to bring me here? We shall rest here for a day and then begin our journey to Helium."
With that decision made, the giantess carried the Earthman back to the city where the mechano-men provided for their comfort as best they could. Oman, however, was nowhere to be seen for several hours. The oddly matched couple assumed that he was tending to his duties as Odwar of Eo and did not miss his presence.
"So, you have returned, metal man," remarked the wary green girl. "But this time your master is not with you; neither is the magical flying thoat. What has happened on your mountain, that you come here covered in the dust of the trail? And where are Dejah Thoris and Dotar Sojat? Tell me the truth -- this place reeks of lies and I will not be deceived!"
"Vovo is dead." Oman replied. "And unless you do as I ask, your two friends may suffer a similar fate. Now listen carefully to what I have to tell you..."
CHAPTER 40: "Farewell to the Plateau of Eo"
For many hours John Carter and Dejah Thoris remained with Oman's mechanical men, resting and preparing to continue their journey. The Odwar's robot workers supplied food for the girl and the great calot, and they fashioned for her a new body harness and accouterments befitting a princess her rank. Also they cleaned her huge cloak and fitted it with pockets and a hood, all of which would prove useful in her coming travels.
The Odwar of Eo tried once again to convince the couple that it would be best if they remain under his close protection and care for a while longer, but he had no power over them, other than persuasion. When that persuasion failed, the mechano-man acceded their wishes and ordered his men to strap the provisions they had assembled to Woola's broad back. A few hours after the dawn of the following day the two started on their way.
Dejah Thoris had not believed that Sola had left them, but when Oman showed them moving pictures from the vacant trail-end at the base of the mesa, she accepted the bitter news.
"Woola and I shall circle the plateau once we have reached the sea bottom." She had told Oman. "If the green girl and her thoat can be found we will take them with us."
In private, she said to John Carter, "Sola would never leave us unless she were in grave danger -- or greatly deceived. We must find out what has happened to her, if at all possible."
John Carter agreed. Although the mechano-men had demonstrated good will and much needed assistance following the death of Vovo, he still did not fully trust the strange beings. Perhaps they had convinced Sola to leave or prehaps they had some knowledge of her whereabouts that they were not sharing. But, despite all else, his purpose had always been to help the princess reach Helium and it was to that promise that he now gave his attention.
They waved farewell to Oman and then started on their way down from the mountain.
On three sides the plateau of Eo is circled by sheer cliffs, broken only by the single steep path on the south, which was far too narrow for the giantess to negotiate. But on the northwest the great mountain long ago had eroded into a series of hills and canyons that stretched far out into the Martian desert. Here Dejah Thoris and Woola were able to very slowly make their way downward off the mesa. Several hours later found them traveling through the rugged, forested country that extended out from the Plateau of Eo. Here, where the ground water was not so near the surface, the undergrowth became much thinner and the trees, though very tall, did not grow so closely together. Already patches of the desert's yellow moss were replacing the wild red grass of the well watered plateau.
"I had not realized that our progress would be so slow," the princess complained to the Earthman. "Even a giant tires eventually, and my aching muscles strain under the weight of this enlarged body. We have wandered far from the place where Sola waited for us. Perhaps it would be best to send Woola off to search for her while I rest here."
"Then take what things we need from his harness and we'll send the calot on his mission," Carter replied. "The desert cannot be far from here and the beast shows no signs of fatigue. With luck he may locate our friend and return with her by daybreak."
The curious-looking couple made a rude camp amid the trees and shared an evening meal as the sun was setting. It was their first opportunity to talk at any great length since they had entered Thark, and it seemed as though ages had passed since that fateful day.
The telepathy the two shared was now so well developed that John Carter could often read the girl's mind even when she was not consciously projecting her thoughts to him. This he found to be a most ungentlemanly embarrassment and he sought her help in overcoming the delicate problem.
"My chieftain, you never cease to surprise me," the maiden laughed. "I have no thoughts that I would keep from you. Among the men and women of this planet such an intimacy is allowable only in very special cases. Our traditions are strict in that way. And yet I have opened my thoughts to you. Cannot you not guess what that means?"
The Earthman said nothing, so she continued with her gentle admonishment.
"You have more than once asked that I not share my deepest feelings with you until we reach Helium, have you not? Don't deny it, for I can read the answer in your heart, no matter how clever you are in blocking your mind when you wish to. All right then, so be it. There are a few mental tricks I can demonstrate to you. My innermost thoughts will remain my own, until I am again safe among my own people. But I tell you now, John, that they will be no different once we reach Helium. If only you would believe that..."
Just then they heard the sound of voices coming through the trees.
Ulysses Paxton has described the bird-men of Barsoom as looking like a cross between a hawk-faced Egyptian god and a Cheyenne warrior bearing the countenance of a Chinese fighting cock. Whether or not this is an accurate description of them even he cannot say for certain, since the creatures are a part of a Barsoomian lore so rarely recalled that not one Martian in ten thousand knows what a "bird-man" is. Only in the fables of the mysterious therns were the giant bird-men of Mars remembered. To this day no visual depiction of these forgotten mythological beings is known to exist. But, whether they look like Earth's Horus or her Rhode Island Red, matters little in relating the accounts provided by Her Majesty Dejah Thoris and Captain John Carter.
In their telling of the story, no myths were the huge feathered creatures who moved through the weird woodlands of Barsoom that moonless night.
"So this was the tower laboratory of the Wizard Vovo," Sola remarked dryly to her robot guide. "It is really quite amazing. I cannot hide the fact that I am impressed with his achievements, even though I hate all that he stood for. Perhaps my Thark race is capable of performing even greater wonders than all of this. The wizard removed the stony curse from my dearest friend in all the world, and for that I am very much pleased. Yet he performed her cure in order to further a monstrous scheme and I owe his memory no appreciation. He is dead now and that is a good thing."
"None of that concerns me now. You promised, that if I accompanied you here, you would explain to me the great danger faced by my two human friends. Yet I do not see them, nor do I know whither they may have gone. Why have you put yourself to so much trouble in bringing me to Eo?"
"Soon you shall know," replied Oman. "And when you know I'm certain you will agree with me that this is a matter of life and death!"
CHAPTER 41: "COCK'S CROW"
John Carter and Dejah Thoris remained quiet, with the Earthman positioned in one of the side pockets of her upper harness. He kept his fingers upon the handle of his long-sword for perhaps an hour, but he had no occasion to draw the blade. The couple exchanged a few fragments of silent telepathy, but until they could be certain what danger they faced, the two refrained from further communication. On Mars carelessly projected thoughts my reach the mind of a foe as easily as that of a friend.
After a long period of time, during which they heard no more voices, the two at last began conversing in a silent transfer of thoughts.
"My princess, what worries me is that the voices were spoken in the same low tones that I hear when you speak. Those sounds did not come from beings of my size!"
"Perhaps you are right, John. But I could not make out any of the words. You are small enough to escape the attention of any giant. Can you quietly explore in the direction that the sounds came from, while I remain here?"
"I do not like the idea of leaving you alone, Dejah Thoris. Yet I shall do as you suggest. There is a radium torch among the items Oman provided. I will put the light on its lowest setting. So long as you see its dim glow you may know how far I have scouted."
The Earthman moved through the sparse vegetation, keeping the little light trained on the ground. The great trees blocked much the starlight, but with only a little difficulty he made his way forward in the darkness, perhaps the distance of an earthly mile. It was there that John Carter came across the tattered remains of a large sheet of canvas, soaked in blood. He had been on Mars long enough to sense the peculiar odor of calot's blood and he needed no greater light than the dim glow of the radium bulb to discern that the canvas was precisely the same kind as that which made up the carrying bags attached to Woola's harness.
If the swordsman needed any more evidence of what had happened among the trees of that forbidding forest, he found it in the form of four huge impressions in the sandy soil. One was a calot's fresh footprint, somewhat wider than his own body was long -- the other three were of an unfamiliar, three-toed pattern of similar width and twice the length of the calot print.
The Earthman's thoughts reached the red princess even before she saw him returning in the dim glow of the radium bulb. She reached out carefully to lift the man to her shoulder and then listened to his scouting report in dismay.
"I think it is likely that some intelligent beings, as large as yourself, have killed Woola and taken his body, perhaps to butcher for meat. There is much blood in the forest downhill from us and I found gigantic footprints there also. Their shape reminds me of the clawed feet of the great durkoos that snatched you up to its nest in Go-La-Ra. I fear that the rumbling voices came from the very same giants who left those strange birdlike prints. Daybreak will soon be upon us; then we can better determine what has happened. If the danger here is as bad as I think it to be, we may have to backtrack to the city of Eo and seek the aid of Oman and the mechano-men."
Before the sun had yet risen, when the darkness first began to recede, the couple moved cautiously through the scattered trees. By the time they reached the place where John Carter had seen the footprints the brief Barsoomian dawn had come and gone. Their inspection of the scene in the light of day turned up many more huge footprints, as well as pieces of Woola's harness and even traces of some of the provisions the great beast had carried upon his back.
"Had I known there were hostile beings of my own size in this place, I might have convinced you to accept Oman's offer of an armed escort. But even so, I doubt that the explosions of several of their rifle cartridges would bring down even one such giant. And we see here evidence of many giants. We must turn back, John Carter."
It was the Earthman was the first to see the giant bird-men leaping toward them over the distant rocky terrain. For a moment their fast moving shapes were concealed by clumps of the tall trees, but then they reemerged into open view, much closer.
"They have seen us!" cried John Carter. "Run back the way we came from!"
Dejah Thoris fled in haste before the cackling brutes, but they gained ground upon her with their every leap.
"Stop!" the foremost giant crowed out in the universal language of Barsoom.
The princess redoubled her speed, seeking vainly to outdistance the feathered beasts. The day before she had descended from the mesa gingerly, watching her every step. Now the giantess threw caution to the winds, climbing up the long ascent as quickly as her feet could carry her. If she could possibly reach the rim of the plateau there might be some safety there. At least she knew there were many boulders that she could roll down upon her pursuers from that great height.
Captain Carter hoped that they must find a way to distract and detain the horrid creatures, so that the princess could reach the rim of the tableland. The rim was still far away, however, and her chances of ever reaching it alive were growing more slender by the second.
From force of habit he shouted orders to Woola, but immediately the swordsman recalled that the great beast must be lying somewhere below, dead or terribly wounded. For a split-second, the man felt as if he had caught a faint telepathic reply from the calot. His false hope faded quickly, however, and he credited the uncanny feeling to his imagination.
The Virginian made his way from an unsteady perch on the fleeing maiden's shoulder to a more secure hold high up in her flowing black tresses. From his new vantage point he could look back at the horrible giants. The nearest of them was about a thousand yards away. From his elaborate decorations Carter took him to be the leader of the bird-like giants, nor was he wrong. Subsequent events revealed that the titan's name was Cro-Yat, but at that moment John Carter thought of him as the "Chicken Man."
This same Chicken Man -- Cro-Yat -- was not content to close the gap between himself and his prey to slowly. He flung a mighty stone hatchet. With lightning speed the weapon cut through the air, coming straight at the girl's head.
CHAPTER 42: "HEIGHTS OF PERIL"
John Carter had drawn his long-sword when the bird-man's arm went back to hurl his hand-ax. By the time the flying weapon reached the princess, the warrior from another world was only able to raise the thin blade in feeble defense against an object the size of an earthman's four-horse farm wagon. The Virginia Captain was knocked back by the impact so violently that his hair-entwined legs pulled dozens of strands from the maiden's head. The flying ax bent John Carter's Orovarian in half, but like a clockwork spring the wondrous steel returned at once to its proper shape. Carter's sword-arm was nearly torn from his shoulder and he held onto the blade only because his fingers were trapped in the slender hand-guard. But, despite these painful injuries, the man held on and he lived to rejoice over Cro-Yat's near miss. His antique long-sword deflected the bird-man's hurled weapon by a hair-breadth and Dejah Thoris was saved!.
The leader of the bird-men stopped his vigorous chase long enough to search for and retrieve his hatchet. The incident with the ax only lasted a couple of minutes but it allowed the princess to gain a little distance on her lead pursuer. When the leader resumed the hunting race he had four other bird-men shoulder-to shoulder with him. The giants were experienced hunters who practiced their running every day, while the Princess of Helium had no training in this kind of strenuous exertion. Volvo had tailored her transformed muscles for beauty not for strength -- and what little strength and endurance the red girl possessed was rapidly becoming depleted.
The slope of the ascent back up to the rim of the mesa rim growing ever more precipitous under the girl's racing feet and the her forward progress slowed almost to a crawl. A few dozen yards ahead of her the incline grew even steeper, turning abruptly into sheer cliffs ten times her own height. Dejah Thoris' heart was pounding. She could barely breathe. This was not the way she had come down from the Plateau of Eo -- she was far off her intended path of return, terribly exhausted and scarcely able to continue. Yet she pushed on with both her feet and her hands now pushing her up the rocky slope, and all the while she was carrying the Earthman with her, half buried in the tangles of her long hair.
Cro-Yat picked up his hatchet, placed it in his belt and bounded off once more in hopes of catching his intended victim. Within a few minutes his swift legs had once again outdistanced his feathered comrades by many paces. Leading the others, the bird-man chief scrambled up the rocks in agile bounds, his feathered arms outstretched for the red princess.
From his position in the maiden's hair John Carter could see the ugly Chicken Man coming ever nearer. The monster's body was shaped much like that of a human being. His supply of limbs was limited to a pair of legs and a pair of arms, which was rather unusual on a planet where six-limbed creatures are the rule and eight-limbed animals are by no means a rarity. From his clawed toes to his broad shoulders the bird-man was a mass of short red feathers. This plumage increased substantially in density and length along the creatures lower arms. The bird-man almost looked as if he might use his feathered arms for flight and more than likely his remote ancestors possessed the ability for that mode of movement. The thing's hands were much like human hands, albeit of gigantic size; likewise its feet, save for the fact that they ended in three clawed toes. It was in the bird-man's head that his avian features were most developed. This, as has been stated, bore similarities both to the head of a hawk and that of a chicken. The bird-man's head was yellow, framed by green and blue plumes.
CHAPTER 43: "INTO SPACE!"
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."
CHAPTER 44: "WATERY TOMB"
John Carter's head and shoulders broke the surface and he floated upright in the blackness. In a career of soldiering that reached back past his earliest recollections he had several times defended himself with a sword while treading water, but always before he had known where he was and what enemies he faced. Several times the Earthman was aware of large moving things coming near him in the dark. From below the water's surface they gave off a faint luminescence, passing him by like fast flying ghosts, with shapes and sizes blurred beyond recognition. Each time one of the hazy shapes came too near he slashed out with his long-sword. When he made a lucky hit in the dark, the water came alive with thrashing forms and jarring currents.
"Sharks!" he thought. "Or something very much like sharks. If I survive five minutes longer it will be a miracle!"
The endangered swordsman perceived a brownness above the blackness. At first it made no sense to him, but then he realized that to his left side, at some unknown distance, the darkness was mitigated ever so slightly by some unknown illumination. Having no better options before him, John Carter turned to the left and with powerful strokes swam toward the light. Treading water with a long-sword in one hand had been difficult , but swimming while holding onto the life-saving weapon was even more arduous. He was making very slow progress, if indeed he was making any progress at all. The swimmer experienced the odd perception that the indistinct boundary between the brown horizon and the black water was rising in a bulging swell directly in front of him.
A pair of glowing orbs appeared out of nowhere. The sable separation between the two huge eyes grew ever wider and the dim brown light disappeared altogether. Like some hellish thing come to life an unending nightmare a cavernous mouth opened around the swimmer, engulfing him. In that perilous instant, the horror of his situation flashed upon John Carter's confused and disoriented perception. He was heading directly into the maw of a titanic carnivorous thing -- a dragon of the watery depths -- and he could do nothing to stop his mad rush into a hot, throbbing doom!
The dragon-fish tossed back its hirsute head and Carter was washed inside the thing, feet first. He stretched out his free hand to grab onto something -- anything -- but his clutching fingers merely slipped over one side of a hairy bulge and after that he lost all contact with the great mouth's exterior. The man was tossed and twisted in the tortuous blackness of a tight enveloping passage; then he shot through its far end and found himself within a place that glowed with strange phosphorescence. Now the startling truth dawned on the Earthman -- he was deep inside the creature's gigantic belly!
The thick layers of Dejah Thoris' cloak protected her from the hard jolts of the runner's bony shoulders. Wrapped within its confining cover the unconscious girl had a temporary sense of warmth and safety. Her blissful oblivion came to an abrupt end when Cro-Yat halted his long jaunt and threw down the bundle he had been carrying upon his back. From an opening in the soft dark folds, the face of the girl emerged, stunned and dismayed in the bright Martian sunlight. Hot tears of frustration and anguish streaked her flushed copper cheeks when the Heliumite princess realized where she was -- and what her inevitable fate among these savage bird-like men was to be.
The Thark girl looked across the many dials, gauges and lights of what Oman called the "monitoring station" in the tower laboratory. She concluded that a vast amount of information regarding Dejah Thoris and John Carter was being brought together and assembled into meaningful knowledge, but what the results might be were beyond her comprehension.
"You say that you can see what is happening in their dream?" the maiden asked.
"I cannot see that in the same way my ocular receptors see you, Sola," the mechanical man responded, "but I can reasonably guess what the two dreamers are experiencing. Vovo had telepathic powers that allowed him to enter into the delusions he created. One part of his mind conducted and observed his experiment, while another part interacted directly with the dreamer. I watched him do that with the Jasoomian right after the wizard cured his paralyzed hands. In fact, it was my witnessing Vovo's vile manipulations of the man's thoughts that first stimulated me to try and stop the green wizard. But I myself have no such mental powers. I can only influence the sleepers with subtle suggestions and sensations. For the most part, I simply watch and wait."
"And what do all these instruments now tell you, Oman?"
"They tell me that the princess and the swordsman are losing contact with each other and moving into a pair of loosely connected, individual dreams. They tell me that as that personal separation increases, both dreamers slip more deeply into Vovo's carefully scripted delusion. I believe that the only chance of a successful outcome lies in their reuniting and finding a shared reality within the fantasy. If that can begin to happen, they may yet find their way out of the mental maze."
Sola thought long and hard. She now trusted that the mechanical man was doing all he possibly could to save her friends, but the prospects still looked bleak. There must be a way to do more for the dreamers -- a way to help them, even the midst of their tangled misperceptions and personal nightmares. There simply must be!
"Oman, you said that you do not have the telepathic capability to enter into the dream to help my friends directly. With the death of Vovo, is there any being left in Eo who has such an ability?"
Hissing in satisfaction, the monster dragon-fish made its way through the black water to the lair where it was wont to relax and digest its meals in solitude. In the monster's gut, its most recent feast was giving the creature a touch of indigestion. It was time for the dragon-fish to rest in the shallows of the underground lake and there allow its powerful gastric juices to do their job.
John Carter was suffocating. He found his head and shoulders enclosed within a gas bubble in the dragon's belly but the gas pocket contained precious little oxygen. No matter how rapidly his gasps took in the fetid vapors, the Earthman's lungs ached and his head spun. The digestive acids he now floundered in burned his skin and stung his eyes. Carter knew that the powerful chemicals would soon eat the flesh from his bones. His only shred of satisfaction came in the thought that his brain would die from lack of air long before the acid consumed his lifeless body.
Meanwhile, Cro-Yat, and his giant chicken-men resumed their march through the dismal forest. The leader carried the princess in his arms, since the distance to their destination was now quite short. Dejah Thoris could easily read their lustful, rapacious thoughts and she knew that her final moments would come to pass at the creatures' nearby village -- under a butcher's knife and in a roasting fire.
CHAPTER 45: "TRAPPED!"
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 seems hopeless!"
"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 that ability."
CHAPTER 46: "LAIR OF DEATH"
The rush of air into the Earthman's bursting lungs came not a moment too soon. Panting and reeling from the terrible experience, John Carter pulled himself from the dragon-fish's rent side and onto the giant creature's long scaly back. From this position he could hear the great dragon's hissing cries echo dismally through the vast underground cavern. The scaly hide offered Carter good handholds on the brute's back. He was surprised to find that he could vaguely make out the features of the scales and fins of the huge animal.
"So, there is light in this hell after all," the swordsman sputtered, clearing his nostrils and ears of the same mixture of blood and intestinal acids that covered the rest of his body.
Indeed, the illumination in the cavern was strong enough that John Carter could make out where it was that the sounds of waves lapping upon rocks were coming from -- perhaps twenty yards away. There he saw the shadows of the cavern walls meet the even blacker shade of the underground lake. Returning his long-sword to its sheath, the Earthman moved cautiously toward the tail of the long creature. As he did this, the thing began to sink slowly into the lake, raising the water first to Carter's knees and then to his waist. He was readying his earthly muscles for a strong leap in the direction of the adjacent shore when the dragon-fish went into its final death throes. An unexpected flip of the gargantuan tail fins hurled the man far into the air.
Head over heels John Carter tumbled through the gloom. Then one foot struck the hard stone wall of the cavern and the remainder of his body alighted in something soft, sticky and very foul smelling. Try as he might, the Earthman could not disengage himself from the gummy mass. In fact, the more he struggled for freedom the more tightly the thick strands of the "something" adhered to his body and fighting man's harness. In a matter of seconds the man was totally immobilized, with only his left foot and his right arm still not tangled in the sticky web.
"Yes -- that's what this is -- something like a spider web, only much much larger!"
He listened to his own words echoing through the dark: "much larger -- much larger..."
With the one foot still free from the sticky entanglement, the Virginian pulled his entire body toward the creviced wall of the underground chamber. With his free hand he pulled the dagger from his leathern straps and with that blade he began to cut the hundreds of adhesive strands, one by one. By this process he gradually worked his way over to the wall from the center of the enormous silken web. Along the way he encountered the mummified remains of various animals he could not identify. At one point in his arduous peregrinations his knee struck a bat-like animal, securely bound in a cocoon of silken ties. The thing bit him and he put the sharp-toothed captive out of its misery with a single thrust of the dagger.
On the far side of the web, within an arm's length of the rocky wall, he broken through the webbing and fell part way into a second sticky mass, directly below the first. Carter cursed his poor luck and struggled to loosen the hundreds of strands that held him tight, from feet to elbows, in a morass of glue and spider silk. It was while in this hapless position that the Earthman first heard the whistling hiss of the grazoon upon whose webs he had so unintentionally alighted.
The Barsoomian grazoon is very much unlike the earthly spider, except for the fact that it spins webs to capture small flying creatures. The animal is neither an insect nor an arachnid, but is closely related to the flying sith of the dying planet's equatorial regions. The grazoon is distributed around the globe of the sun's fourth companion in numerous varieties, ranging in size from the microscopic denizens of the polar ice fields to the mammoth tree climbers which haunt the Tonoolian swamplands. The animal's bite is deadly, if it cares to inject a full dose of its venom into a victim -- if it does not, the bite merely paralyzes, with effects lasting according to the measure of poison it inflicts. While all grazoons are born with twelve legs and four wings, eight of those legs are highly atrophied in most species and all of them lose their wings upon reaching maturity.
The grazoon John Carter had awakened was one of the kind that moves on four legs, supporting a body nearly the size of an adult African elephant, though weighing far less. Such creatures are content to spend their lives close to their sticky webs, catching in them various living things and sucking away their paralyzed captives' life fluids over a period of several days or weeks.
The Earthman had saved the four-legged monster a good deal of trouble by his falling so neatly into a sticky, web-bound cavity from which escape was just about impossible. So it was that the old grazoon of the Plateau of Eo made no hurried rush to subdue his new prey. It was quite evident that John Carter was not going to be leaving any time soon.
Sola was scratching Woola under the chin. It was a sight unimaginable in all of Thark just a few weeks before. The great calot was obviously enjoying the familiar attention and the green girl's smile was one of good will, not the typical sadistic leer displayed by the green giants when watching torture or the agony of a prolonged death. Oman, who had dealt with the neighboring green race for hundreds of thousands of years, was especially impressed by the gentleness of the six-limbed maiden. She was fully capable of running an attacker through with a sharp blade, but Sola was perhaps the only one of her people Oman had ever encountered, who might shed tears of grief over having to take another's life in defense of her own.
"As I said, there is no being on this plateau blessed with the telepathic powers that would be necessary for us to influence the two dreamers' fantasies directly and in predictably effective ways. That is why I am now turning to you. Sola, you are a friend of both the sleepers and you have their trust -- perhaps even their love. You have already shared thought transfers with both Dejah Thoris and Dotar Sojat, have you not?"
Sola did not answer. For a long time she sat playing with the calot. She now understood the logic of Oman's entreaty and why the robot had insisted that she come to Vovo's laboratory. Despite all of this, his question surprised her. If Tharks dream at all, it is nothing they could describe in words or would want to share with another person. As for telepathy, the sum total of her experiences with that, up until very recently, had been responding to Sarkoja's work commands and giving her own, similar commands to hatchlings and dumb animals. She asked herself, silently, "What do I know of trust or love? I have no skills in these human passions!"
"You understand what I am saying, don't you..." Oman began.
"No." Sola finally replied -- and that was all she said.
CHAPTER 47: "TANGLED TURMOIL"
Before John Carter could raise his one free arm above his head, the grazoon had cast several long strands of gummy webbing over his face and shoulders. This precision ejection of raw silk the creature carried out from the far side of its entrapment network. Captain Carter, practically imprisoned in the creature's mesh, awaited his end with stoic fortitude. He only hoped that the spider-like quadruped's venom would act quickly, for he knew that with but one hand left free he could neither kill the thing nor cut his way free from its trap. However, at that point of ultimate peril, a mad scheme came to him and his steel gray eyes flashed with implacable animation.
"I still live!" he reminded himself.
Sola's negative answer left the Odwar of Eo with nothing more to say. He bowed his head in imitation of human Barsoomian custom and asked the young green woman how he might be of service, since she was a guest on the Plateau of Eo by his request.
"When you brought me to this place we walked for a long time through a great forest. From what little I could see, I suppose the jungle covers the entire mountain top. Tell me, is it a natural thing or is it also a creation of Vovo?"
"I tell you truly, Sola, that it was no creation of Vovo's, although the mechano-men now tend the foliage and give it the water our dying world can no longer supply from its thin atmosphere. The forest was here before ever an intelligent being drew a breath on Barsoom. Forests like this one were the birthplace of your own race, and when the green men had disappeared from all the face of our world, their sole remnant survived here."
"It is an unwritten history, my friend. It is a story that no living being today knows, save for myself. I know it well, for I saw much of it happen with my own eyes. Although your ancestors forgot the truth a hundred thousand years ago, the Isle of Eo with its pristine jungles was a special place for the green men of Barsoom. Now it is but a lost mountain in a god-forsaken desert. This place is your ancient homeland, Sola. You have more of a right to be here than any of the rest of us do."
"If what you say is truthful, Oman, then I wish to walk for a while among the trees. I'll take Woola with me. I have never seen such a wonder before, nor has the calot. Grant us that request; I ask no more of you. Perhaps nothing can be done for my friends -- at least I do not expect you to try any harder to save them than you already have done. I thank you for your good intentions. Now I desire to be alone."
With that the Thark maiden turned on her heel and walked out of the wizard's laboratory.
"It smells too much of unnatural things here, Woola," she sighed to the watchdog. "Let us breathe the bounteous air green plants make, as our first ancestors did."
The human half of the Odwar -- the part of him so long suppressed -- felt first sadness, and then acceptance. He had tried his best, but he knew now that the salvation of the dreamers was not in his hands. It never had been.
The old grazoon watched its new victim from the other size of the web. The captured flesh would supply the fluids for many a meal and the grazoon could sleep even more often and for longer periods in the safety of its silken mesh. The big victim was several times the size of the creature's usual fare of small flying things. Yes, it was a good catch -- a very good catch.
But then a tiny glimmer of intelligence was activated in the grazoon's slow-thinking brain. Such a large morsel would require more than one injection of venom. In its youth the four-legged monster might have killed the prey with a single sting. But now its death would require two or three administrations from the grazoon's poisonous pincers.
Lazily the old bug twisted its head in a complete circle, and seeing nothing amiss, it sauntered across the web toward the Earthman. At the web's center the animal again stopped and looked about, then it moved stealthily toward Carter. The animal's great pincer jaws were opening and closing in anticipation of the kill. From both wicked-looking jaw tips a drop of paralyzing venom emerged and gleamed menacingly in the feeble light.
"That's right," said John Carter. "Come closer -- just a little closer."
Sola the daughter of Gozava and Tars Tarkas of Thark had never before seen so many trees. They came in all shapes and sizes and their leaves ranged in hue from sparkling emerald green to pale orange, streaked with olive. Of course the girl did not know what emeralds, oranges and olives were, but the green race has a keen sense of color and had Sola known more of Jasoom she would have made those same comparisons, as well as a thousand others. But on the Barsoom she knew, Sola had very little to compare the colors to, let alone the entire picture of trees, shrubbery, vines, insects, birds and all the million and one other strange sights surrounding her.
"They are like the trees that grow along the red people's waterways, but larger and far more numerous. I wonder how old the oldest one is, Woola?"
The watchdog gave no reply. Many of the plants had metal signs attached to them, but she could not read the characters. She supposed they were names. Playfully the green girl gave the plants her own set of names: "skeel, pimalia, man-flower, sorapus, usalob, mantalia, sompus" and "calot-tree." The last named specimen, she saw, had a high steel fence around it. However piles of bones around it showed that the carnivorous plant was not starving behind its barrier.
"Don't go near that one," Sola cautioned the watchdog, " or you'll learn why it is named after your many-toothed breed!"
Having probed as far as she wished, the green girl turned about at the fence and retraced her steps through the trees and the garden-like undergrowth. She loved the balance and tranquillity of the place -- so many different living things together. And although she did not yet know the word for the invisible gas, the maid of Mars loved filling her lungs with the rich, invigorating oxygen the forest's green vegetation poured into the air.
Sola decided it would be best to spend the night on the plateau. It was already late in the day and the thoat she had left at the trail-head could look after itself until she returned. So the girl turned her face toward Eo's silver tower and resolved to tell Oman that she would stay a little longer. Along the way Sola stopped to look at the weird man-flowers. She sat in their midst for quite a while and it was there that a singular idea came to her.
CHAPTER 48: "JAWS OF DEATH"
The old spider-like thing loomed over the Earthman like a black thundercloud, ready to send forth its destruction without warning. John Carter's upper body was still coated with streaks of drying blood and gore from the dragon-fish and it appeared that the grazoon was intrigued by the powerful odor of these scraps of carnage. The creature hesitated, moved forward and then hesitated again. All the while Carter was busy with the dagger he held in his free hand. As the grazoon crouched to spring upon the Earthman and inject its lethal venom, John Carter cut the final anchor strand that held the insect-thing's web in place.
Still fastened at several other points high in the cavern, the tangled net dipped downward at the free end. The heavy grazoon made its four-legged jump a heartbeat too late and went tumbling over the edge, dragging down the part of the web in which Carter was caught. As luck would have it the single silken strand holding the beast was within reach of the Virginian's knife. He furiously hacked at the line and in less time than the telling of it takes, the old grazoon was flat upon its back far below the entrapment mesh. With the sharp dagger Carter freed himself sufficiently so as to draw his long-sword; then the work of cutting away the imprisoning lines of spider silk went much faster. At last the Earthman severed the final sticky strand and moved from the mangled network to a precarious hold on the jagged cavern wall.
Not far below him, but a few dozen feet away, the subtle cavern light was concentrated in a spot that offered the swordsman his only hope of finding a path to its tenuous source, and from there to the world outside the mountain's caverns. Cautiously John Carter made his way along the eroded rock toward that little patch of light. He looked down to see the grazoon beneath him, still on its back and flailing its four legs helplessly in the air. Carter turned his attention back on the precarious path to the light. Clinging to the rocks with his feet and a hand, he stretched out his free arm to grab a projection just above the sunlit area. He strained his muscles with a mighty effort and caught hold of the outcrop, then he swung his body downward to the inviting support of a long sturdy-looking stone ledge. As one toe touched the ledge, from out of nowhere a sticky strand of spider silk struck the extended foot. The ejected line of gooey stuff knocked John Carter from the cavern wall and pulled him violently downward. The dismayed swordsman dropped with a thud upon the overturned grazoon.
"The anti-gravity modules will be in place shortly, then we can make the transfer," the metal odwar said. "The movement of the bodies will be done as smoothly and as quietly as is possible."
"And their harnesses and trappings? Oh yes, and their weapons also?" Sola inquired.
"Yes, my friend, everything is being taken to the spot in the forest you spoke of. But I see no way to dress the two without endangering them in the world of their dreams. Again I caution you that our disturbing their sleep might easily prove fatal to your friends, Sola."
A squad of silent mechano-men attached the gravity inhibitors while Oman lowered the transparent enclosures and then covered the two glass cases with sturdy canvas. The twin ersite slabs floated eerily above the laboratory tables. Slowly and cautiously the robots maneuvered the queerly enveloped objects through the laboratory, out of the tower and into the streets of the little city.
The green girl and the odwar walked along behind the floating objects with the troop of robots which guided them along the path into the forest. The strange procession reminded Sola of the time during her brief childhood when the old Jeddak of Thark died and Tal Hajus had his body carried through the capital city to the charnel house. She shook off that dismal recollection and tried to imagine a happier outcome. However, the daughter of Gozava was well aware that her untutored plan might bring Dejah Thoris and John Carter to death's door that very day.
"From this point forward," explained the robot leader, "I can no longer monitor the dreamers nor guess what goes on in their fantasies. That troubles me."
"And it troubles me, Oman, that you have so carefully monitored them. Vovo's dismal laboratory, with all its cold machinery and sensing devices is not the proper place for my dear friends. If they must die, at least let them pass from this world in the open air, surrounded by the beauty of nature. But since you speak of the sensors and the dials, what did they tell you of the sleepers' dream before the two fantasies went their separate ways?"
"I only know that in their dream the princess and the Jasoomian insisted upon leaving Eo. Evidently my counterpart in their imaginations tried to convince them to stay and make proper preparations, but they went off looking for your own dream self, lost track of the calot and became separated."
"You did not tell me that I was a part of their dreams." Sola replied dryly.
"Nor can I be certain that they really dreamt of you, young woman; but from the instrument read-outs in the laboratory that was my conclusion. My fantasy counterpart told them you were not waiting at the base of the plateau, I think. And there the dream echoed reality, for I had gone to fetch you, here in the real world. Only after I returned with you did I discover the sensor read-outs telling that part of the story."
"I would be quite happy never again to hear of sensor read-outs," she sighed. "But see ahead on the pathway, we approach the place where the ground and foliage are covered in flowers. I ask that your robots place the bodies on the verge of the shade cast by the skeel trees -- there on that slight rise in the forest floor."
The Odwar of Eo gently managed the gravity inhibitors, so that the two naked bodies were laid out, side by side upon a silk draped bed of leaves, with each body under its own glass enclosure. Beside the dreamers Sola laid out their few possessions. Neither Dejah Thoris nor John Carter moved a muscle during the process, and now their silent repose among the trees and flowers gave no hint of life. Oman peered through the glass one last time, to be certain that they yet drew an occasional breath of air, then he backed away from the insensible figures.
"I've opened the little vents on the glass cases," Oman said. "The sleepers will have sufficient air, but none of the creatures of this forest will disturb them. Nothing larger than a sorak haunts these woods. The two of them may lie thus for a day or for a century, and never be disturbed. However, without food and drink they will not live long."
With that the odwar commanded his little troop to depart. He lingered long enough to touch Sola upon her upper shoulder -- an almost human gesture -- then Oman said his farewell and was gone. Sola and the Martian watchdog were left alone with the sleepers, surrounded by the quiet majesty of the leafy forest giants.
CHAPTER 49: "A WILD RIDE"
Of all the places in a world that John Carter might just then have elected to visit, the belly of an angry venomous grazoon ranked at the very bottom of the list. As quickly as his earthly muscles could respond to the shocking development, he attempted to leap away from the terrible thing. But the monstrosity's silken capture-line held him back and the Earthman was only partly successful in his struggle. He managed to jump as far as the outer edge of the creature's underside and there he toppled over the side. His momentum and weight provided exactly the amount of counterbalance the grazoon required to right itself. Flat on his back and entangled in the adhesive strand, the man gazed up at the monster's approaching pincers. Captain Carter fumbled for his long-sword and then, to his despair, he realized that it was pinned down by his own weight under his backside.
Woola whimpered unhappily in protest but he obeyed Sola's command to stay back from the two glass-encased figures. Eventually the brute ran off among the forest undergrowth and stayed out of sight for a considerable amount of time. When he returned it was with something strange between his toothy jaws.
"Let me see what you have there, you silly hound!" Sola scolded. "Oh -- you've gone and uprooted a clump of man-flowers! Here, give them to me; this isn't a proper meal for a big mean calot like you!"
The green girl carefully unfolded the mangled plants. Woola's hard tugs had bent their arm-like branches, serrated leaves and strangely patterned petals, but they were tough little things and the handful of insect-eating flowers did not appear to be greatly injured. Sola used her dagger to carve out a few holes in the forest floor. She transplanted the wilted weeds near the sleeping man's head and gave them no further notice.
Now it was the old grazoon's turn to misstep. The spider-like creature lurched down to puncture its prey and inject a copious measure of poison, but it too was entangled in the line and the grazoon's lunge missed John Carter's throat by a handbreadth. That was all the advantage the warrior needed. He rolled over twice in the thick mud of the cavern floor and sat up in the slimy ooze, long-sword in hand, while the grazoon was tearing at its own silk.
Where another, less experienced fighter might have stooped to rub the muck from his eyes and look for a path of possible escape, John Carter lunged out to meet the peril of inhuman death head-on. Six times the Earthman sank the great Orovarian blade into the giant's bristly hide. The spider-like monster sprawled into the deepening muck, but one strand of silk still joined the grazoon with its human attacker. In mud up to his shoulders now, John Carter reached out and slashed into the creature's great peering eyes. The grazoon split the cavern's silence with an ear-piercing shriek, the silk broke and the creature was gone.
Twice before, in his recollection, the Virginian had found himself feet down in deep mud or quicksand. From those critical experiences he had learned that his only way out of the morass was to lower his head into the blackness and flatten out his body as best he could. The Earthman half-swam and half-crawled through the thick stuff until one knee finally touched bottom. Then the mud rose up on three sides, in strange surges that propelled him forward -- forward in the sense that he moved in a direction of greater light and a lower rock ceiling. The waves of ooze continued to roll in, from the right as well as the left, and from each wave a grotesque face seemed to stare out at him.
The depth of the ooze had diminished to the point that the mud-spattered warrior could move unsteadily through the stuff on two limbs rather than four. He rose to his feet, a dirty shadow of his former self.
"The spider disappeared so quickly." he thought out loud. "That seems strange. I suppose I should be thankful it is gone -- that there was only one of them. But -- it still seems unnatural. No, more than that; it seems unreal!"
John Carter continued to stagger toward the light, climbing over slimy boulders and wading through pools of black viscous material which was neither liquid nor solid. His progress was slow -- frustratingly slow. He lifted a foot to move forward and took a dozen breaths before he felt it touch bottom again. Then he lifted the other foot and it too passed through the muck as slowly as a snail on a cold spring morning. When he sought to move faster, his efforts to escape were as those of a man caught in a hideous dream.
"This can't be real," he said to himself. "Not even on Mars does mire come alive!"
Still, the living mud waves rolled onward tirelessly battering him from all sides. Where before there had been nothing but slime, muck and rocks the Earthman now stumbled over dead roots and broken branches. The light continually increased overhead and now John Carter could see that the rocky ceiling had given way to dense vegetation. Ahead of him sunbeams pierced the canopy of foliage and he could make out the shapes of huge mushroom-like growths.
Twice he fell to his knees and had to tear away twisted roots, hidden amid large piles of decaying leaves, in order to move on. But when he reached the giant mushrooms the ground was at last clear of the tangled debris and firm enough to support his weight. Glancing over his shoulder he beheld the living darkness of the cavern, forming distorted faces and clutching hands. The animated gloom was calling him back in hypnotic, enticing surges. John Carter felt the strong pull, like a thumbtack in the attraction field of a powerful magnet. He hesitated and wavered. Then the weary fighter heard the queer growths in the foliage above urging him forward out of the blackness.
The unexpected sight so startled the green girl that for a moment she simply sat and stared. Then it happened again. For the first time since she had seen the Jasoomian stretched out upon the slab in Vovo's tower, he had moved. The first motion she saw was but a slight twist of the man's neck. It came and went so quickly that the daughter of Tars Tarkas could not be certain that her eyes were not playing tricks upon her. But that small spasm was soon followed by a more obvious backward jerk of his chin. The second event was an undeniable fact. John Carter's muscles had moved of their own accord and that must signify something. But what?
Following the stiff lurch of his head the Jasoomian returned to his former motionless state and the man's entire body went flaccid.
"Oh! Dotar Sojat -- have you died!" Sola cried out. Then she recalled Oman's warning about not disturbing the dreamers with loud sounds and she lowered her voice. "I fear I have lost you now, man of another world. Is this my punishment for taking you away from the robot's safekeeping?"
Just then an alien thought sprang from out of nowhere and reverberated within the green girl's telepathic consciousness: "I yet live!"
CHAPTER 50: "Between Ooze and Leaf"
John Carter stood transfixed between the shrieking plants, on one hand and the living darkness of the cavern on the other. From where he stood nothing around him made much sense. It occurred to the Earthman how tired he was -- exhausted in fact. If he could just sit down and rest for a while, perhaps then he could sort out the baffling situation.
"No! No! Don't stop now, little man!" a voice called out. "The mud-men will get you!"
The warrior looked about him to see where this shout of unsolicited advice had come from and he was astonished to see a human-faced, long green vine, wrapped around the hanging limb of a nearby tree. Perhaps "human-faced" is not the exact thought that came to him at that moment, but the vine ended in a large blossom, the center of which featured eyes and a mouth something like his own. The vine-flower with a face was swaying from the tree branch in a way that could not be attributed to the wind or some other external force. If he could believe his eyes, the man was gazing upon a moving, talking, flower which could see and hear him.
"This is madness!" he called out, as if in answer to the weird talking thing.
"Yes! Yes! Come back to us, or you will go mad!" other voices answered.
There appeared to be no choices open to him other than going forward in the direction of the shrieking plants, or back to the living darkness. The leafy canopy above him was far too dense to allow jumping, and on either side of the path he now found himself upon, the thorny undergrowth was absolutely impenetrable. Given the discouraging prospect of returning to the sticky ooze of the cavern, an adventure among intelligent plants appeared to be the better option by far, even if it entailed madness.
Try as he might, however, he could take a single step forward. After several attempts at walking in the direction of the plants, all Carter had accomplished was backtracking from the mushroom growths a number of paces toward the cave mouth.
A plant reached out a grotesque, hand-like stem and jerked the Earthman from his continual retreat. The mud monsters behind him spluttered in disappointed anguish as their human prey was snatched away.
"So this is madness?" John Carter asked rhetorically. "Or perhaps a mad nightmare? Or -- or is this the dreadful end that comes to anyone who is affected by the insidious drugs purveyed by the Wizard of Eo?"
"By my leaves and petals!" cackled the plant man who held Carter. "You are a man-thing of the outer realm."
Here the patient reader must excuse the insertion of a few words of explanation provided by Captain Ulysses Paxton, regarding the plant men of Mars. At the time Captain Carter first encountered the bizarre entities he then thought of as "plant men," he had not yet traveled within the Otz Mountains at the South Pole and thus he had no knowledge of those mindless, blue-skinned and single-eyed denizens of the Valley Dor, which are properly called plant men
Captain Carter, in his own accounts, speaks often of his fascination with the myriad forms and colors unique to the flowering plants of the red planet. No doubt he had already come upon specimens of the various carnivorous plants of Barsoom, including those species having light-sensing spots in the middle of their blooms. An imaginative mind might easily connect those harmless little growths with the huge talking flowers of Eo, as described by Captain Carter. Indeed a similar evolution may be seen in the writings of Charles L. Dodgson. While Captain Carter has never admitted to being much of a reader, it is a curious fact that his friend, James K. Powell, once carried on a lengthy correspondence with Mr. Dodgson.
The talking plant man held John Carter in an amiable embrace, a little distance from its intelligent looking face. He was not far off the ground and the Earthman might easily have escaped the hand-like vines, but he elected to stay and learn all he could about these remarkable beings.
"Maybe he is from Cluros, or even Thuria!" another talking flower chimed in.
"You are not far wrong," answered the Virginian. "I do come from another world -- from a planet far out in space."
"By my roots and branches!" continued the first plant man. Tell us something about the flowers of your planet!."
"Well, I can truthfully say that they are not so clever as the flowers of Barsoom. I come from a world where plants are silent and madmen like myself should be also."
This response brought forth great roar of laughter from the assemblage of talking greenery.
Sensing that he had stumbled upon a way to insure the strange creatures' continued amiability, John Carter added another comment.
"The very next time that I go out among chicken-men, dragon-fish, four-legged spiders and mud-men, I honestly promise to visit all of you and relate my many madcap exploits."
Again peals of merriment of echoed from the strange flowers.
"The man-thing is humorous," cried one of them. "Pass him along for the king to see," shouted another.
Only then did the visitor from another world realize that all of the intelligent plants were firmly attached to vines, branches and the trunks of trees. The closest his experience could come to classifying them was as a Martian equivalent to earthly orchids -- though a few of them looked a little more like non-blossoming fly-trap plants. Nothing in his study of life on the dying planet prepared the Earthman for his encounter with these talking oddities. And, although the experience forever remained vivid in his memory, it is safe to say that the gentleman from Virginia never again talked with plants after this particularly fanciful meeting.
Convinced beyond a doubt that his sanity had already snapped, Captain Carter joined in the revelry of the plant men and voiced no objections as they moved him along at a good pace from one set of hand-like tendrils to another.
CHAPTER 51: "THE PLANT KING"
Several important things occurred to John Carter as he was being passed from plant to plant though the lower branches of the trees. The first thing that he found to be odd was that he was now in a jungle very much like the one that covered the Plateau of Eo. And yet he had fallen such a great distance through the bowls of that same mountain that he logically must have exited the cavern somewhere near its base. Although one side of the mountain merged into lightly forested hills, nothing he had seen below the mesa top suggested that a great rain forest jungle existed adjacent to the Plateau of Eo. The second thing that seemed odd was that the rays of sunlight penetrating the forest came from directly overhead. The bird-men had begun their chase just after sunrise and probably not even an earthly hour had elapsed between that time and when he fell into the shaft that took him deep inside the mountain. Half a day could not have passed so quickly, no matter how much insanity had come upon him. Finally, he had certainly lost his radium torch and his dagger inside the cavern, yet they were now inexplicably attached to his harness again.
Had Captain Carter paused to consider these points a bit more carefully, he might have added one more oddity -- the very fact that he henceforth gave them no further thought. But such are the ways of madmen and if he was indeed insane he need not worry about small matters.
After being passed along by the strange plants for what seemed like many minutes, John Carter finally found himself seated upon a giant mushroom before the king. The man did not know whether to call the weird intelligent plant a jed, jeddak or jeddra, so he imitated the other flowers, who called their leader "mighty one," which is the general Barsoomian idiom indicating "king" or "queen." The Virginia Captain did not feel it was a proper subject of inquiry to try and determine the sex of the "mighty one," but simply called the extraordinary plant "king" and "him."
After exchanging the usual Barsoomian "koar" greetings, the man and the plant eyed each other in silence for a long while. What this interval signified, John Carter had absolutely no idea, but it gave him ample opportunity to look the leader over, from top to bottom. The king of the plant men was perhaps a dozen times the height of the Earthman, and had a long stem-like body which was perhaps a half dozen times his girth. Fully a quarter of this huge body was taken up by the plant king's head. And if Captain Carter's memory is correct, the plant king's countenance bore an uncanny resemblance to both the giant durkoos of Go-La-Ra and to the giant bird-men who lived on the northeastern slopes of the Plateau of Eo.
The plant king's stem-like body was mostly light brown interspersed with patches of orange color. Three quarters of the way up from its root-like bottom the plant split into three parts with the center portion supporting the great head and the side portions tapering off into stubby arms that ended in three claws or clawed fingers.
The plant king's head was surrounded by a frame of large green sepals, which in turn was surmounted by a mass of long, thin red and yellow petals. In the center of all this colorful finery was the plant king's huge green beak, projecting between two bird-like eyes. The head was topped by a tall shock of yellow foliage. All in all the plant king cut a most dashing and imposing figure and any stranger could be easily forgiven for supposing that the bestowal of kingship among the plant men depended primarily upon how resplendent and flamboyant a candidate's head coloration was judged to be by his fellow flowers.
Whether or not these plants had lungs, Captain Carter never decided, but the king appeared to draw in a long breath before he opened wide his leafy mouth. Then again, perhaps it is not quite correct to say that the plant king spoke with his mouth. The Virginia Captain was almost certain that the beings' primary communication was telepathic, but for reasons that seemed good at the time, he did not preoccupy himself what that small matter.
"Say something funny!" the intelligent plant shrieked, "before I wilt away. It's been simply ages since I've heard anything to make me laugh,"
Despite his earlier easy success with the plant king's subjects, he could not think of much to say that was humorous. The audience reminded him of nothing else so much as a recurring dream he once suffered for several years, in which President Jefferson Davis would ask Captain Carter to read a speech before his assembled generals and the Captain would fumble through all his pockets and never be able to locate his handwritten copy of the address.
"When asked why it had crossed the road, the chicken replied, 'to get to the other side," the Earthman began lamely.
"No doubt that is true, man-thing. But now please say something hilarious!" wailed the king.
"People from Earth," replied the astonished man, "would laugh uproariously were I to tell them that I had once conversed with a leafy vegetable!"
John Carter felt like an idiot and he had not a shadow of a doubt that the plant king was think the exact same thing about him. If plants faces can be said to hold expressions, that of the king was quite dour at the moment.
"Excuse me," said the king, "but I am not at all amused."
"I was afraid that might be the case..." the Earthman began.
Whereupon, clutching the Earthman in its arms, the plant king thrust itself high up into the forest canopy. The man's skull missed a huge tree limb by a finger's width and he was left choking upon mouthfuls, nosefuls and earfuls of pasty green leaves.
"I take it that you're trying to kill me?" was all that John Carter could think to say, once he had spit the leaves out.
"Why goodness gracious! That's the funniest thing you have said so far!" roared the plant king. Do you suppose I'm going to chop you up and feed your remains to my own roots? Why, then you would be in my sap and seeds!"
The plant kind laughed outrageously at his own joke, but the confused Earthman could only wonder what was coming next.
CHAPTER 52: "CUT ME IN TWO"
How they came to be where they were John Carter was not quite sure. Moments before he and the plant king had been in a humid jungle. After a sudden lunge through the treetops both the strange plant and the Earthman were back upon familiar territory -- at least it was familiar to the man, for it was the same spot where he had discovered the evidence of Woola's serious injury or death on the night before.
"Here we are!" declared the king.
The Earthman was puzzled over how he had come back to the spot where the calot was slain, but he was just as puzzled over why the plant had released him.
"I thought you intended to kill me," Carter said.
"Great roots!" exclaimed the king impatiently. "You people who are not attached to the ground are always thinking of killing each other! I intend to help you locate your princess."
"I've told you nothing about any princess," replied John Carter. "From where did you obtain such an idea?"
"Through my roots, I suppose. But we've spent the entire morning talking about your world of Jasoom and how you helped free the red princess from the green men. You explained about her turning to stone and becoming a giant atop the great mountain that stands above us right now. Certainly you recall our jokes about the chicken men and how they cross the road! Why else is it already mid day, Mr. Carter of Richmond, if we did not spend the entire morning in that endless chatter?"
The Virginian admitted that the plant king's logic was impeccable, although it did not quite explain where the jungle treetops had disappeared to.
"Ah yes! My jungle indeed -- why I had forgotten that I am still rooted there. Now please do as I say. Draw your sword and cut me in two just below the arms."
Since nothing else made sense, this request was no more or less bizarre than any other thing the plant man had to say. The Jasoomian agreed to follow the king's bidding without question.
"Upon Mars nothing is unbelievable!" is all John Carter had to say in reply.
The Earthman wielded his great Orovarian sword at the spot the plant king indicated. Immediately the ground from which the great stem sprang closed up without leaving a trace of the king's lower body.
"I'm dreaming; there's no other explanation!" Carter cried. "Either that or magic is true!"
"Certainly it's true!" chuckled the plant king. "If it's not, then tell me that tale again about how you flew here from Jasoom! Oh you are a funny one, aren't you!"
When the part of the king's trunk bearing his head and arms fell to the ground the arms suddenly turned into legs and the plant king stood up like a comical two-legged bird.
The Earthman opened his mouth to speak but this time words failed him.
"Now leap to my back," shouted the king, "and we shall be off to search for your princess and save her from those mean old chicken men!"
A second later the plant was hopping across the jagged terrain, in the direction from whence Captain Carter first saw the bird-men approaching himself and Dejah Thoris that morning.
"Dejah Thoris!" he exclaimed. The Earthman was certain he had again caught a faint fragment of her thoughts. "She must be close by!" he said aloud.
"Yes, she is close by -- she's as near as the feathered forest. If I know that, then why don't you? There's nobody else here to tell me, now is there?"
And so their conversation continued. The plant king's mode of travel with rather like that of a kangaroo, but with Carter clinging to its back and not tucked away in a pouch on its belly. A score of bewildering questions went racing through the Earthman's brain, but each time he put one of them into words the answers the plant king gave only made the bronzed swordsman even more bewildered.
"Talking to you is like trying to grab a leaf floating on a pond; the harder I try to get it, the faster it floats away." The Earthman said at last.
The plant king slowed his gait to a walk and then stopped moving entirely. He turned his big head a peered at the man for a moment.
"If that is so," the plant replied in a most serious tone of voice, "then you must not grab at the leaf. Thank about it, Jasoomian. Why not pull the water to yourself and allow the leaf to float back upon the waves and into your hand? Oh I know a great deal about leaves. Yes, we can talk about the leaves all night -- a most interesting topic, aren't they!"
John Carter was certain that there must be some grain of wisdom in the plant king's philosophy, but he was a fighting man and not given to deep thinking.
"Why have we stopped so soon?" questioned the Earthman. "You spoke of a feathered forest and finding the red princess."
"Indeed I did, and we spent the entire afternoon talking about leaves also. A most profitable conversation, if I do say so myself. But you don't expect that we'll travel in the feathered forest by night, now do you? I'm not so petal-headed as to attempt that!"
When the plant king had stopped his hopping the sun was still high in the sky; now it was fast approaching sunset. John Carter was positive that the two of them had not exchanged more than a dozen sentences since they halted their journey. He was on the verge of questioning his odd companion about the time anomaly, but when the idea of trying to grab a leaf in the water came back to him; he thought the better of it and said nothing
CHAPTER 53: "STRANGE FRIENDS"
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 morning.
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 realize."
"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 him back.
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!
CHAPTER 54: "DEATH MARCH"
The green girl opened her eyes. It was already morning but all was quiet in the forest, save for the calot's rhythmic breathing. The same dream had come to her again. Before the two humans appeared in her life, it had been simply a dim recurring feeling of danger and hunger -- a typical Thark dream she supposed. But more recently something else was happening in her deep slumber. She was a hatchling again; cold -- lost -- alone. A figure would approach her from out of nowhere, offering gentle words and a friendly smile. He embraced her in his two bronzed arms and comforted her. Then, just as she was beginning to feel warm again, the fantasy would fade and Sola would awaken.
The maiden slipped out from under the calot's protecting legs and looked across the little glade at the two glass cases. The forest's morning dews were evaporating and hanging in a thin haze not far above the ground. Through these unfamiliar mists Sola could see the head and shoulders of the unconscious princess -- but where was the man? John Carter was gone!
The plant king made a pointing motion with his long green beak. The swordsman looked to see what it was that had caught his strange friend's attention. Partly visible, behind a cluster of rude huts, was a massive iron cooking pot, as large as a typical farmhouse back on Earth. From under the boiling pot the smoke of a cooking fire rose into the air and drifted through the enveloping tree tops of the feather forest.
It seemed passing odd to John Carter that the savages should have the means to make or obtain such a metallic vessel, but he dropped the matter from his mind at once. A group of giant bird-men were heading across the village courtyard, in the direction of the boiling pot. Their ranks parted for an instant and for the second time in as many minutes the Earthman beheld the Princess Dejah Thoris. The girl was being forced along by the untamed creatures. Carter's muscles tensed and his hand instinctively went to his sword. But he was powerless to act. Not only was the girl's body fifteen times its normal size, the bird-men were even larger giants than she was.
"What can I possibly do to help her?" the swordsman asked. "I counted fifty of the giant males -- all are armed and seem ready for battle. My sword is useless against such a foe!"
Sola rushed to the transparent enclosures that Oman had provided for the two sleepers. It was only when she had approached so close as to be able to touch the glass that she realized her mistake. Quickly she wiped the remaining droplets of meager Barsoomian dew from the man's case and scrutinized the interior. Her friend was still there, but he was curled into a ball at the foot of the spacious enclosure. As the girl's pounding heartbeat slowed back to its normal pace, she decided that she must do something to remedy the alarming situation.
The man's elongated glass dome was extremely heavy. Sola was only able to raise it from one side after she had pried it up a little with her short-sword and inserted a number of tree branches into the space between the glass and the thick silk ground cloth. Eventually the assortment of wooden wedges lifted the heavy glass high enough that the girl was able to tip it over, away from the two sleepers. With the transparent confinement removed, the unconscious Earthman slowly moved to straighten himself out, aided only by the mild guidance of Sola's ministering hands. Not long after she had removed the glass, the man was again flat on his back and evidently oblivious to all that was going on around him.
Being careful not to step too heavily upon the man-flowers and other beautiful plants that surrounded the dreamer, Sola straightened out his sleeping silk as best she could. Then she turned her attention to the situation of Dejah Thoris.
"I'm sure that Oman had the best of intentions." she confided to the motionless woman beneath the glass. "But a forest is a place of sounds and smells and feelings. With the glass removed you'll be closer to the source of those wonders. And if an insect buzzes around you or the wind chills you, that will be better than remaining in this confining shell for Issus knows how many days or years!"
When she had tumbled the glass away from the sleeping form of the princess, Sola straightened her silk as well. It was only when she was finished with this final ministration that the young green woman realized her eyes were filling with water. The Thark girl had lost a mother, probably also a father, and now her last dear friend in a hostile world drifted on the dreamer's Iss. Sola did not know what kissing was, but she put her moist cheek next to the red girl's lips and bade her a tender adieu. Then she did the same with the man, lingering only long enough to straighten a lock of his hair and to wipe her own tear-stains from the unkempt stubble of his jaw and cheek.
The girl moved several paces away, sat down amid the blooming pimalia bushes and brooded over the melancholy scene for hours.
From their perch in the feather tree the two companions could see that the scene being played out in the rude village below was fast approaching a terrible climax.
The plant king spoke to the Jasoomian in hushed tones.
"Don't think that you are so alone. Unrooted animals always seem to overlook the most obvious things; don't you know? All night long my root hairs were growing; now I just need to get them into the proper connection and get myself in touch with helpful friends."
"You haven't told me anything I can understand," answered Captain Carter. "But I'm ready to believe your magic is real, and to do all I can, if you'll begin now. Even from this distance I can read the giant chickens' thoughts. They are ready to chop the girl into pieces and eat her right now. There's no more time for talking!"
"Your absolutely right!" chirped the talking plant. "So get on my back and let's get going!"
Without any further warning the plant king sprang into the air. With the Earthman holding on tightly the leafy thing floated down to the ground. How the plant king managed such a leisurely fall, John Carter did not know or care. His only thought was, that very soon, he would be at the giantess' side. Already flashes of her perceptions were entering his brain. It was just a matter of time now, before their telepathy was restored.
"Courage, my princess!" were his first thought-words.
The plant king drifted to the edge of the village courtyard, like just another green branch carried along on the morning breeze. The clearing was ringed with numerous clusters of plant growth and the leafy king looked much like all the rest. The Earthman's form, however, was another matter.
"I need to hide you, Jasoomian," the talking plant whispered. "Climb inside my beak and none of the giants will see you."
CHAPTER 55: "A DARING PLAN"
Even under the best of conditions Martian telepathy is a very uncertain operation. It is most frequently used on the red planet as a means to give certain animals, slaves and hatchings simple commands and warnings. Many adepts who are quite proficient in projecting their thoughts to others are essentially unable to read the minds of their fellow Martians, even at close range. Finally, in the case of telepaths who can competently exchange their thoughts with others, their extraordinary powers may fail them at any time for any number of reasons.
Dejah Thoris had been receiving brief telecasts from the Jasoomian ever since her capture by the giant bird-men. She knew that the man was alive and that he was struggling to reach her. Now the princess even knew that he was not very far away. But none of those perceptions in her mind were of very much use, given the stunning amount of mental chatter coming from the primitive minds of her bird-men captors. Simply put, their continual strong and undisciplined thought waves blocked out any chance the Princess of Helium might have had to communicate at a distance with John Carter.
She did not care to dwell upon the indignities and molestations she had suffered from the savage warriors during her death march to the sorry little village. Her memory of those violations would be snuffed out soon enough. The brave Earthman might try as he would, but nothing short of the sudden appearance of her Navy of Helium overhead could save her now. The smoke from the cooking fire already burned her eyes, just as the obscene jeers of the villagers scorched her ears. Dejah Thoris, daughter of ten thousand jeddaks, could only await her fate with the composed nobility expected of one in her royal station -- with that, and with the inner tranquillity that had come with her expanded consciousness. Her only hope was that the nightmare would soon be over.
In the center of the village courtyard the bird-men had commenced a savage, fanatical ceremony that would quite obviously culminate in the beheading of their new captive, the helpless girl from the outside world. From his place of concealment within his companion's ample beak the Earthman watched the weird ritual progress. Cro-Yat, the chief of the fantastic tribe, danced wildly around Dejah Thoris, swinging his hatchet in vulgar and menacing explication of the horror that was to come. All of this Captain Carter viewed from about the same perspective as a person looking upward at ten storey buildings -- except for the fact that the objects of his observation were living, bloodthirsty giants who had worked themselves into a murderous frenzy.
The whirling feathered giants were moving so unpredictably and with such force in their cavorting motions that Captain Carter could only believe that it would be simply a matter of time before the plant king was crushed beneath their bestial claws. Despite the tremendous risk involved, the two intruders moved forward unobserved, approaching ever closer to the center of the barbaric revelry. To the savage bird-like giants the plant king appeared to be nothing other than an insignificant-looking shrub that supported a lone blossom on its twisted trunk. But inside that blossom John Carter waited tensely for the king to carry out the second part of its amazing scheme. Cautiously the plant completed his transit across the courtyard, dodging the moving feet, and trying very hard to continue looking like and innocent piece of shrubbery, unworthy of the bird-creatures' notice. Skirting the hot cooking fire and the boiling metal pot, he finally reached his intended goal.
From a discrete vantage point the Odwar of Eo continued to watch Sola and the motionless bodies of the two humans Although he had relinquished control over their ultimate destinies, Oman still felt a special responsibility for their well being, so long as the three outsiders remained upon the Plateau of Eo. A pair of Vovo's mechanical camera birds served the robot leader as his eyes and ears from a distance. By this means he was able to monitor events in the forest from the tower laboratory, but not intrude noticeably upon the green girl's activities. All of his own experience in the sad affair with the humans, coupled with his study of Vovo's private notes, told Oman that the next few hours would be the most crucial ones in determining the fate of Dejah Thoris and John Carter.
Oman had watched with apprehension as the Thark maiden removed the glass enclosures from the sleepers' beds. Probably her decision to uncover the bodies would shorten their dreaming life significantly, but whether the results would be positive or negative he could not guess. In the event of their death the odwar could offer for service the same incinerating facility that had consumed Vovo's deceased form. If they awakened from the induced dream he was prepared to supply whatever provisions and assistance they might require -- including restraints for the effects of violent insanity. Having looked over what evidence he could locate regarding the little wizard's previous research into induced dreams, the probability of the dreamers going mad seemed highly likely. Their separate fantasies would start out with some degree of structure and logic and then might well deteriorate into the meaningless ravings of a maniac.
The robot's last lingering hope of seeing the seemingly endless induce dream come to a quick and happy conclusion had been shattered. In his searches to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the original Wizards of Eo, the robot leader uncovered proof that Vovo had destroyed their mechanical bodies and then disintegrated their superior minds. Scraps of the wizards identities, thoughts and memories might yet remain among the discarded mental circuits in Vovo's old rubbish heaps, but the Wizards of Eo were certainly not going to emerge at a late hour to save the human sleepers. They were gone forever, blotted our by the murderous schemes of Vo Dor and his dwarf assistant. In a way, Oman himself was the last of the ancient wizards; lineage and heritage -- and he had no desire whatsoever to follow in their footsteps.
"You come now! We kill!" One of the feathered savages yelled over the tumult of his comrades' carousal. With two of the savages pushing her forward at knife point, the red princess had no choice but to comply with the bird-man's contemptuous command. In the center of the village courtyard, beside the ominous boiling pot, the two guards pushed the girl to her knees. The same two chicken-headed ruffians hauled a large log up in front of her and dropped it with a thud. The bark was worn away in one spot and in its place were old bloodstains and numerous ax marks. This horrid thing she presumed was the savages' chopping block. Since there was no sign of any other executed human giants in the village, and since several huts were decorated with severed skulls of dead bird-men, Dejah Thoris guessed that her captors were cannibals. Certainly their ceaseless telepathic chatter conveyed the idea that they would feast on one another's cooked flesh as happily as they would upon hers.
The feathered tormentors thrust the maiden's neck down upon the log with obvious delight, then one of them brought forth a metal-bladed hatchet and set about sharpening it on a grindstone he set up in the shade of the only tree the savages had left standing in their courtyard. From her crouched position the Princess of Helium watched the grinding sparks fly -- and waited patiently for the her life to be stolen away.
CHAPTER 56: "THE HATCHET"
As if her degradation at the village chopping block were not already evident enough, one of the bird-men stepped out of the wildly leaping crowd and seized the princess by her body harness. Under the savage's indelicate hands the leather straps cut deeply into her soft skin and then tore apart. With these the savage creature flailed the poor girl mercilessly. From his vantage point in the plant king's beak, John Carter started forward, sword in hand.
"Patience, Jasoomian!" the plant king cautioned. "Nothing you can do right now will help your princess. In a moment or two the time will be right. I have a friend in the old tree ahead of us and very soon we shall have greater power at our disposal than all those untamed animals with their waving hatchets. Wait for my signal, then strike!"
The Earthman bit his lip and held himself back. Not since he had rescued a poor fleeing plantation drudge from the bloodthirsty hounds of her merciless overseer at Fredericksburg, had Captain Carter felt such passionate outrage. He fixed his gaze upon the maiden's defiant face and took her courage for his example. His berserk wrath abated slightly and he waited for a better opportunity to vindicate her violated womanhood.
When Dejah Thoris refused to cry out in pain, the girl's tormentor grew bored with the abuse and cast his improvised whip aside, retaining but a single long strap, with which he secure the young woman's hands tightly behind her bruised back. The torturer rejoined the wild motions his dancing companions, bragging in loud shouts how he had subdued the "human witch." The young woman took what little consolation she could, in knowing that the brave Jasoomian was yet free. Her last wish was that he might know how strong her love was and how she valued the little time they had spent together as the most precious moments of her life.
The horrid ritual dance ended suddenly. Without warning, all the village fell deathly silent. The dancers fell back into the crowd that ringed the courtyard, leaving only their leader to continue the ceremony. He circled round the girl three times, spiraling in from the verge of the clearing to the center, where the red princess, battered and bound, awaited her fate. Dejah Thoris lifted her eyes to watch Cro-Yat approach the chopping block; with the cruel bird-men watching her every move, she did not dare to lift her neck from the filthy log. From her confined position, she could observe the repulsive executioner's actions well enough to know what was coming.
The leader of the bird-men advanced very slowly, accentuating his every movement, like a performer in some silent and intricately structured oriental drama. The warrior at the grindstone finished his work, spat upon the sharpened blade and then ran the keen edge along his own arm. A line of blood flowed from the new wound and the savage lapped up his own sanguine flow with an idiotic smile. Satisfied that the blade was sharpened to perfection, he handed the instrument of death to Cro-Yat.
As Cro-Yat was methodically weaving his way toward the girl with upraised hatchet and wide staring eyes, the plant king reached the lone tree whose limb overhung the place of sacrifice. None of the feathered savages paid the slightest attention when the intelligent plant scampered up the crooked old trunk and out onto the long leafy branch.
Once he was directly over the chopping block, the plant king attached himself to the old tree limb with his freshly grown roots. The connecting process took some time to complete, and in the meanwhile John Carter continued to observe the depraved tragedy that was being acted out in the clearing below. He tried desperately to make mental contact with the red princess, but only a single thought-phrase came into his agitated mind.
"It's too late for me, John -- save yourself! -- and know that I..."
Cro-Yat's loud cackling broke the silence, alerting all the bird-men that the climax to the bloody ritual had begun. All eyes were on the leader as he raised the sharpened hatchet to behead the first human they had ever captured who was large enough to serve as a sacrificial victim. Twice Cro-Yat's hatchet mocked the death stroke, each time halting just as the sharp edge touched the back of the girl's extended neck. The third fall of the blade would be the deadly stroke. Cro Yat again held high the sharpened weapon for all the village to see.
Establishing contact through the thick bark had taken longer than the plant king had anticipated, but now that the leafy sovereign had gained the tree's happy cooperation he could exert control over its trunk and branches.
"Watch this, Jasoomian!" the plant exclaimed. "Now we'll give my big friend the skeel tree some exercise!"
Little by little the great trunk bent forward and the long contorted limbs began to move.
Within the plant king's mouth John Carter watched the tree's unusual motions with amazement, but his gaze was drawn back to the upraised weapon in the bird-man's hand. The Earthman had tensely awaited the moment that would send him to the princess' aid. It was coming now!
Cro-Yat's hatchet began to fall upon its mark, but before the deadly stroke could be delivered, the longest of the swaying limbs reached down between the executioner and his victim. The great wooden arm wrapped itself around the bird-man's waist and tore him away from the red princess. The bird-man was flung backwards with such force that his shoulders knocked over the heavy cooking pot and set two dozen villagers diving for safety from the splash of its boiling contents.
At the same time John Carter leaped from the plant king's open mouth and headed straight down toward the girl's bound hands. Before any of the bird-men could guess what was happening, the Earthman was upon the maiden's bent back, hacking at the confining leather strap with his sharp long-sword.
Where he had come from Dejah Thoris had no idea. But in that final deadly interval, before the blade could strike, she felt the familiar movement of the man upon her and knew at once it was the small form of her chieftain. She kept her head upon the block, so as not to draw attention to her rescue, but it scarcely mattered. Cro-Yat was gone and the bird-men were running from the menacing tree in terror and confusion.
CHAPTER 57: "REVENGE"
Dejah Thoris rubbed her aching wrists in astonishment. What had happened? What had become of the vicious Cro-Yat? Ten seconds earlier the chief of the bird-men was swinging his deadly hand-ax down to sever her neck from her body; and now not only was she yet alive, but she was also free to rise and embrace her rescuer! Were the Earthman also fifteen times his normal height, the princess could have thrown her arms about the stalwart warrior, but Vovo's scientific curse continued to segregate Dejah Thoris from the man who had once stood head and shoulders over her own slender frame. The maid of Mars lifted the small figure of Captain Carter in one hand and looked upon him through her tear-filled eyes.
"Oh, John," she exclaimed, "you are truly here! Oh, how I have missed you!"
Yet, even as she spoke these happy words of reunion with the man who had stolen her heart, the Princess of Helium saw that the confounded villagers were beginning to regroup. The braver brutes in the flock were calling upon the startled warriors to turn and aid the beleaguered Cro-Yat. All of this the girl heard clearly, and even though the giants' voices were but an unintelligible rumble in the ears of the Earthman, she knew that he too could read their powerful telepathic projections. No matter how it was that John Carter had been able to disrupt their bloody ritual and momentarily disperse the savage company, the bird-men were preparing now for a counter-attack. Neither she nor her swordsman champion were yet safe from the plumed monsters, by any means.
"My chieftain!" she cried out in alarm, "you should not have come for me! See how many of them there are? The whole village is now rising up against us and it is impossible for you to prevail against overwhelming numbers of warriors many times your size. Nor is there any place round about to which we can flee. A person of my size cannot hide from them, John! Beyond this village the feather forest provides a home to hundreds more of these savage giants. Escape before the see you, John -- and save yourself while there is still time!"
John Carter looked about him. His eyes scanned the village of a hundred huts and the weird forest beyond. The Barsoomian maid was right, there was no path by which she could escape the village, let alone the forest, without enormous help. A being as small a he, on the other hand, might elude the giants and hide in any one of a thousand unseen places. But the brave Virginian's thoughts did not turn to running away, nor did he consider hiding.
He longed to take the girl into his arms and hold her, but every circumstance of the moment made that impossible. Instead, he had to content himself with the touch of her skin and the the radiance of her sad smile.
"All that matters to me is that I am with you again," he replied. His voice filled with emotion as he continued. "My life would be worthless without your presence in it, Dejah Thoris. My small blade may not kill a single feathered giant -- but I have more protection than this sword at my disposal. I have not come here alone, my princess. Look -- I have brought with me an amazing companion who even now sits above us in yon tree!"
It was only then that the granddaughter of Tardos Mors realized what means John Carter had used to remove the odious executioner. The huge tree that a moment before serenely cast its shade upon the center of the courtyard had moved -- and moved most dramatically! Although the gnarled old titan of the forest remained rooted in the middle of the clearing, its great limbs now extended beyond the courtyard and were in frantic motion against the regrouping bird-men.
Entrapped at the end of the longest of these tree limbs, the chief of the bird-men was struggling and cursing -- his arms and legs gesticulating wildly, while the swaying wooden appendage held him in mid air!
Cro-Yat beat upon the confining bark with his bare hands, but no no avail. Unable to combat the tenacious grasp of the tree limb, the enraged chief urged his tribe to aid him.
"Warriors! This thing chokes Cro-Yat! Bring weapons! Climb big tree! Free Cro-Yat!"
In blind obedience the chief's most fanatical followers gathered the armed warriors into a fighting formation and raised their hatchets in a display of their bravado.
"Kill! Kill the tree!" they chanted.
The remainder of the startled villagers, upon hearing this vengeful rallying cry, turned from their flight and stood their ground. Then, with horrific yells, the entire company raced forward to free their chief and wreak vengeance upon this new and unexpected foe.
John Carter braced himself for the onrush. A thrust of his long-sword would be like a pinprick to any of the feathered giants, but he would go down fighting if there were no other way. To his relief however, none of the bird-men charged the defenseless princess. Instead, the entire village was preoccupied with the moving tree's seizure of Cro-Yat.
"I trust there is yet hope, Dejah Thoris. The intelligent plant who now controls the skeel tree is an admired leader among his kind. He can bring great power to bear against these savages. He also moves between this world and his own realm by strange and wondrous means. If anything can help us now, I believe he can."
"This world, did you say?" the princess questioned. "If your strange companion lives in a different world, which of the two is real? More and more the things I have experienced since our trouble with Vovo lead me to ask such questions, John, do you suppose that these bizarre beings and this preposterous feather forest truly exist?"
The Earthman had no chance to answer. Even as the girl was speaking, one of the huge tree limbs shot through the air with tremendous force and came directly at the Princess of Helium.
CHAPTER 58: "MARTIAN MIRACLE"
The bird-men rushed forward in a large wave of bodies, determined to free their endangered leader, but they had no idea what powerful forces of nature they were facing. Seeing no visible enemy the savages focused their attention on chopping away at the tree limb that held Cro-Yat. Their confined chief continued his wild motions, just a short distance from the ground, calling upon his followers to free him at once.
"Don't worry about what exists abd does not exist, Dejah Thoris! Now you'll see what my friend the plant king can do with the help of this great tree!" John Carter exclaimed. Hardly had the first hatchet fallen, when the amazingly limber branch whipped back a great distance, and from that point of retreat it just as quickly flipped forward, letting go the body of the bird-man just in front of the warrior mob. The leader crashed directly into their faces, halting the mob's advance and ending Cro-Yat's exalted career forever.
Even before the hurled body struck the front ranks of barbaric troop, the plant king had already compelled the tree limb to encircle the girl and lift her from the ground. The great wooden arm swung at her with incredible speed but slowed just short of striking the astounded princess. Instead of doing her any harm the animated limb gently elevated both Dejah Thoris and the Earthman away from all danger.
"What death is this? The giant princess asked. "John, use your senses -- this cannot possibly be happening to us! Something is very unnatural here! Are we on the Barsoom of my birth or is this -- is this the abode of my ancestors, beyond the Iss!"
"Fear not, Dejah Thoris." the Earthman reassured her. "This is our moment of triumph. I have struggled without ceasing to attain this deliverance and now when we are on the brink of success, we must not let our imaginations get the better of us!"
"I believe they already have," was her only reply.
In all its wild movements and fantastic displays of power, the great skeel tree had remained firmly rooted in the center of the bird-men's village. The savages soon realized this fact and thereafter they were careful to stay at the edge of their huts, just out of reach of the tree's longest branches. Again the ferocious villagers rallied and began to attack their strange new foe.
With Cro-Yat dead the savages had no leader, but a few among them were cunning enough to sense the tree's vulnerability to fire. These warriors took the lead in staging a more insidious assault.
"Look my friend, they are throwing torches at us!" John Carter called out from his perch in the giant maiden's hair. If the plant king heard him, he did not answer.
Faster and faster the firebrands came. Some were hurled so high as to force the princess to dodge out of their firey arcs, but most of the torches landed against the skeel tree's lower trunk. There the rough and eroded bark offered a perfect lodging place for the flaming missles
At first the chicken-headed warriors made use of the half-burnt splintered logs from the disrupted cooking fire, but soon all the bird-men villagers were engaged in the work of scavenging dead wood from the ground and tearing branches from the surrounding foliage. Within a couple of minutes there was a raging bonfire burning out of control at the bottom of the great tree. The flames rose high on all sides, and still the bird-men added more fuel to the pyre.
"This will never do!" shouted the plant king. "My old friend the skeel tree says his bark is beginning to burn! I'm afraid the time has come for us to take more drastic action. Hold on -- things are going to get a little bumpy now!"
Under the plant king's direction the great tree began rocking to and fro. This action split the ground under the village into a myriad of wedge-shaped segments, radiating outward from the skeel's trunk in all directions. The violent lurching continued to increase in magnitude, until in each of the crevices split open in the ground the hidden roots of the huge tree began to emerge. Suddenly their still buried ends snapped off and all the roots tore from the soil.
"What in Issus; name is happening?" the apprehensive princess demanded.
John Carter moved close to her ear. The noise of the cracking, lurching roots was drowning out even the shrieks of the villagers. But the maiden heard his reply.
"When I first met the plant king, something similar happened. He left his roots in the ground and made himself mobile. Perhaps the skeel tree will now move about as freely as the plant king does!"
The plant king shrieked in satisfaction, for under his strange power the tree had become a free moving thing. Now he turned the mobile tree upon the villagers and raced forward to trample as many of them as possible beneath its heavy roots. The bird-men went down before the titanic adversary by the score, their hollow avian bones snapping beneath the great skeel like so many brittle twigs.
At last it appeared that Dejah Thoris and John Carter had found salvation from the chicken-headed savages.
CHAPTER 59: "INTO THE JUNGLE"
The mighty skeel tree moved through the village of the bird-men, destroying it and all who were careless enough not to flee the plant king's magnified powers. Many of the savages were trampled to death but many more escaped into the feather forest. These escapees presented a danger to the humans, so the plant king directed the moving tree to carry the the couple as far toward the edge of the fantastic realm as possible. But the tree could not leave its home; it would carry the princess and the swordsman only part of the way to safety.
"My friend's leaves are wilting and his strength will not hold out for long. The skeel tree must return to his roots while he still can. With their village destroyed the tree will be left in peace; they will not return to fight him."
The great tree let Dejah Thoris down at a spot where the feather forest began to merge into the thinner vegetation flanking the Plateau of Eo. Then it began to lumber off, making its way back to its ancient home.
"I must go also, Jasoomian!" cried the plant king from his perch on the skeel's broad limb. "I'll get my old friend home now. Happy journeying. Remember what I said about taking time to laugh every day!"
With that the two strange creatures disappeared back into the feather forest, leaving Dejah Thoris and John Carter alone in the foothills of the great plateau.
"So, your strange is friend is gone forever?" queried the skeptical maiden.
"I know you doubt that he is real Dejah Thoris, but his magic has freed both of us. He promised that he will delay as long as he can the inevitable pursuit of the bird-men. But he cannot hold them all back. I think we are not far from the place where the bird-men captured you. If we make haste, perhaps we can better elude the feathered brutes this time."
The sound of distant crashing in underbrush behind warned them that some of the chicken-headed warriors were nearby. The princess agreed that their best chance of reaching safety was to return to the city of the mechano-men. So they set about climbing back up through the foothills to the plateau. At first the giantess progressed quickly. She and her small campanion put the feather forest behind them forever and soon found the path that led back to the mesa top. But her muscles eventually tired of the strain of trekking up through the foothills. Vovo had proportioned her expanded form for beauty and not for strength.
"We can rest here, I think, John," the tired girl sighed. "We've seen no sign of the bird-men since the sun rose to its full height. In a while I'll continue and we can still reach the robot city before nightfall. I'm already thirsting for another drink from the reservoir. It's not easy being my size, you know!"
The Earthman agreed, and so the girl found a spot where the trees were higher than she was. There they sat in the shade and told each other of their recent nightmarish experiences.
But even as the Princess of Helium rested, with John Carter in the palm of her hand, cruel and savage eyes were watching her every move.
Sola watched Oman's approach along the forest trail with a mixture of annoyance and acceptance. She guessed that the robot and his minions had been spying on her, but that minor intrusion she could forgive. The Plateau of Eo was their domain and no matter that her remote ancestors had once lived here, she and her friends were still intruders. Besides that, the green girl knew that the human side of the robot odwar shared her same feelings of guilt and concern over the fate of the two sleepers. She would do her best not to treat the visitor too rudely.
"Your friends have begun moving about, it appears." The robot leader said in a matter of fact way. "Have you detected their thoughts or heard them speak at all?"
"Not enough to make any sense of it," Sola replied.
For a long time neither of them spoke. Then the girl resumed her reply.
"They move a little. The princess made a small sound earlier. I think an insect stung her. I was perhaps wrong to remove their protective covers. The night will be cold again and their bodies will suffer from the chill. Did you come to put back the glass cases?"
"No," said the robot. "I came because I was lonely."
"You knew my people when we could not yet speak the language of Barsoom, or cook our meals, or make war. Yes?"
"I suppose I did. I've put those memories back into storage, Sola. They interfere with my duties in governing the mechano-men."
"Then perhaps, Odwar of Eo, you should also put your loneliness into storage. Just as I must forget what friendship means, should I return to the green race."
A lone bird-man warrior returning from hunting on the fringes of the feather forest, heard the strange sounds of somebody talking in a high pitched voice. The savage sought cover and listened to the girl approaching. When he saw her he was amazed that a creature of his own size should me making such sounds. But when she sat down to rest he crept closer and discovered that she was conversing with a little human that she held in her hands.
"Gizank find much food!" the dull witted creature said to himself.
Both John Carter and the princess immediately detected Gizank's strong thought projections, and the girl, who had just escaped one cooking fire, trembled with loathing and apprehension.
"How many do you think there are, John?" she whispered.
"I think just one, my princess. I see a bird-man's foot at the bottom of the shrubbery over by the two dead trees. You can't outrun him and I can't easily fight him. But I have a plan, if he follows us. Continue up the hillside and I'll watch behind, to see what he does."
So Dejah Thoris rose and resumed her trek, carrying John Carter in her hair and knowing that any second, without warning, a hurled bird-man's hatchet might strike her dead from behind.
CHAPTER 60: "GIANT PERIL"
Gizank, the giant chicken-headed man, at first followed the girl from the cover of the underbrush. The slow-thinking beast had no idea that his revolting thoughts were already penetrating the mind of his intended victim.
"Oh! Big body there. Gizank eat many days! Eat round top -- eat round bottom!"
When he was certain that only she and the little man were on the path ahead of him and that there were no enemies behind him, then the bird-man warrior made his move. With a blood-curdling cackle, Gizank broke out from the concealing foliage and charged directly down the narrow jungle trail toward Dejah Thoris.
From his hiding place, clinging to a lock of hair near the girl's ear, John Carter watched the bird-man closing fast. He had already explained his daring plan to the red maiden.
"If this one behaves like the other bird-men did, he will want to capture you. Act as though you are ready to surrender to him. Courage, my princess!" the Earthman concluded.
"Ah! Little man fear Gianak! He run away!" the feathered giant cackled gleefully.
Dejah Thoris held her hands in the air, palms out, as though she were frozen with terror -- a deception which, at that moment, was not so very far from the truth. The bird-man rushed up to the motionless girl with his hatchet raised in one hand. But deciding that he did not need the weapon after all, he dropped it on the ground. Then he thrust out both his hideous hands to grab the red maiden by her slender throat.
"Remember -- move your head near his. And trust me, Dejah Thoris!" John Carter said, communicating more by telepathy than by the sound of his hushed voice.
Dejah Thoris allowed Gizank to clutch her, but his tightening fingers were choking her beyond all expectation. At first she struggled for breath. Then, remembering the Earthman's instructions, the girl simply collapsed onto the chest of the savage warrior.
That was all the advantage John Carter required. As the girl's head fell into feigned unconsciousness upon the bird-man's upper arms, the Virginian was enabled to leap from his hiding place within her tresses over to beast's adjacent shoulder. Immediately upon landing there he drew his long-sword. The amazing thing about his leap was that the bird-man was so distracted that he did not at first realize that the man's small figure was clinging fast to the pinfeathers on his right shoulder.
"Prepare to meet your ancestors, damned cannibal!" the Earthman shouted. Then he leaped forward to ram his sword through Gizank's eye-socket and into his brain.
As for Dejah Thoris, she was convinced that this particular bird-man had no intention of capturing her alive. The monster's thick talons were continuing their work of strangling the life from the princess. Now she truly was on the verge of losing consciousness. The girl's feet give way under her and she fell back, just a little, from the monster's clutches.
Thrown off balance by the shift in the girl's weight, the bird-man lurched forward a step. At the same time John Carter plunged his long-sword into the giant's eyeball. But the creature's unexpected movement deflected the Earthman's blow a little to one side. The sword pierced the bird-man and was at once blinded in one eye, but was also still very much alive!
The Odwar of Eo tried a different line of approach in attempting to converse with the impassive taciturn green girl.
"In addition to closing down all of Vovo's experiments, I have also decided to cease the munitions production at Eo. I believe that the abilities of the robots and the functions of Eo's workshops can be put to better use."
"A noble decision, Sir Odwar," she answered, "but other arms makers will keep up the supply. The last Wizard of Eo was not providing my people with many gun parts, anyway. In all my life I doubt that our traders exchanged goods with him more than three times. We have a great store of parts at Thark from which we could make ten times more guns than we ourselves can use. The gun-runners of the red race come to us as their source for the best radium rifles, you know."
"Perhaps you are right, Sola. Perhaps nothing will change. But my decision stands. In the future the workers of Eo will manufacture medicines and other useful things. The workshops no longer need great amounts of radium. Do you suppose your people would trade with us in other ways? Can there at least be a little peaceful progress in this world gone to war?"
"They will always come for help in treating illness and injuries; of that you can be assured. But if you do not want to sell gun parts or encourage the trade in radium, do not expect the green race to come here often. Not even the best minds among the Tharks can be turned to peaceful ways. That is, unless my father ever becomes..."
The girl and the robot ceased their conversation at once. They both had heard the Earthman's distressed cry.
"Dejah Thoris! Help me, Dejah Thoris!"
CHAPTER 61: "UNEQUAL STRUGGLE"
The giant bird-man screeched in terrible agony. With one hand he pulled the long-sword from his ruptured blind eye. Then he slapped and scraped at his neck and shoulder, over and over again, in a frantic effort to discover and dislodge his tiny attacker. Gizank was moving wildly about and screaming at the top of his lungs, but the stubborn brute refused to relinquish his hold on the princess. Her red cheeks grew pale and her eyes were thrown back in an unseeing gaze. Gizank's strong talons were not only suffocating Dejah Thoris, his vice-like grip has about to break the girl's neck.
John Carter hung onto the feathers behind one ear of the gyrating monster, expecting that at any moment he might be thrown into the air or crushed by Gizanck's free hand. But when he saw the princess' body go totally limp in the grip of the bird-man's other hand, the Earthman knew that he must take desperate measures at once. Ignoring the continual blows of the half-blinded giant's free hand, he lunged forward and grasped the blood-stained feathers just below the creature's injured eye. In a blur of motion John Carter drew his short-sword and behind his renewed assault Carter hurled the entire weight of his body. Shoulder deep he plunged his arm and the weapon into the gore of Gizank's broken eyeball.
John Carter could not see the results of his daring attack -- that the monster had at last loosened his stranglehold upon the imperiled young woman -- but he knew that the bird-man was yet standing and shrieking so loudly that other bird-men might soon be rushing to aid their injured comrade.
Again the Virginian drove his blade home and this time he was certain its piont had passed beyond the bony walls of the monster's eye-socket. With a shriek of anguish louder than all the others, the chicken-headed warrior at last released his grip on the poor girl. The Earthman's sword point had pierced a vital spot in Gizank's brain.
Dejah Thoris had fallen into the tall grass beside the trail. With all her might she struggled to hold onto her senses. Her mind drifted in and out of darkness, but with one supreme effort of her will the princess rolled over and swung out an arm to seize the lurching bird-man.
In wrathful confusion the bird-like monster continued to strike blindly at the excruciating pain. The strikes came so hard and fast that John Carter could not dodge them all. A chance blow of Gizank's huge hand struck Carter and sent him hurtling toward the ground.
Although he has never been a religious man, Captain Carter has long been convinced that some unexplained hand of providence protects him in the times of greatest peril. His confidence in that otherworldly preservation was once again rewarded. Certain death would have come to the falling swordsman had not Gizank's barbaric necklace swung over to one side, just as he plunged backward from the bird-man's neck. His leg caught upon the thing and Carter swung back and forth, upside down on Gizank's chest.
Her second attempt to grab Gizank's foot was successful. The Princess of Helium held onto the monstrous three-toed appendage and the dying bird-man stumbled and fell upon his back, like a lightning smitten tree. Gizank, the giant chicken-headed savage, lay dead in the silent forest.
Sola and the robot leader had been momentarily distracted by their conversation and had not noticed the sleeping Jasoomian's increasing restlessness. The dreamer had moved to one side of his silken mattress and was entangled in the harness and weapons the green girl had placed by his side.
"He awakens!" cried the Thark maiden.
The girl and the metal man rushed to John Carter's side, but they soon saw he was not awake. Rather, he continued his restive motions and was mumbling a broken stream of inarticulate groans and sighs.
"Quick, move these things," bade Oman. "I'll help him back onto his bed."
Sola removed the Earthman's scant possession and then turned to assist the robot. Woola also got into the activity, but the anxious beast was potentially more harmful than helpful. Only after repeated scoldings from the green maiden did the calot settle down and content himself with closely observing the strange happenings from a distance.
John Carter's earthly muscles were strong, but Oman's metal limbs were stronger still. Acting as carefully as he could not to injure the unconscious man, the robot effectively restrained his legs and one arm. Unbidden, Sola bent over John Carter, holding his other arm in her lower hands and resting her upper hands near enough to his head to hold it down also, if necessary.
"Is this the way you thought it would be, when they come out of their trances?" Sola questioned the mechanical odwar.
"I had not idea what to expect," he answered. "But I've always feared they would awaken insane -- if they came back to the world of the living at all."
"His thoughts are coming into my mind," exclaimed Sola. "Dotar Sojat still sleeps, but in his mind he is raving like a madman!"
CHAPTER 62: "TOWARD DOOM"
The battered and bruised Princess of Helium could hardly believe that the ferocious struggle was over, so quickly had the feathered giant fallen. She made certain that Gizank was no longer moving, and only then did Dejah Thoris fall back upon her elbows and fill her aching lungs again and again with life-giving air.
"How can this be happening to me?" she half sobbed and half screamed. "Oh, that the cruel Tharks had killed me that day when the Haldar crashed!"
The dizziness the bird-man's grip had inflicted upon her began to abate and soon the girl could think more rationally and move more prudently. Having assured herself that Gizank's body was no threat, her next concern was to locate her Jasoomian companion. Compared to her giant size John Carter was very small and so she was careful not to move so quickly or forcefully as to knock into the diminutive man unawares.
"Dejah Thoris! Help me, Dejah Thoris!"
She heard his cry for help in her mind, but her ears could not pick up the tenuous sound of the man's small voice. With great caution she edged forward on her hands and knees, scrutinizing the dusty ground where the dead giant rested. Then she examined every visible detail of the prostrate corpse, but there was no sign of the Earthman anywhere. All she discovered was a pin-like object beside the body, which turned out to be the long-sword that John Carter had let go of during the conflict.
"Where are you, John? -- I cannot see you!" she called out. But there was no answer.
Gizank's huge body lay face down on the trail where he had fallen. Failing to locate her companion's little figure anywhere, it was the girl's increasing fear that John Carter was pinned beneath the great carcass. Moving very carefully and methodically, the Martian maiden endeavored to turn the feathered beast upon his back. This she finally accomplished, dreading all the while to look in the space where Gizank had dropped, lest she see the Earthman's broken body.
"Great Issus! What has happened to you, my chieftain," the forlorn princess called out; still no answer came.
In great distress Dejah Thoris again searched the entire death scene, taking great pains to examine every feather of Gizank's great frame. Again she found another reminder of her lost friend, in the short-sword that still protruded from the bird-man's shattered left eye. But nothing more than that.
Either the chicken-headed giant had flung the Earthman so far into the forest that his body might never be found, or -- or he had crushed the hero in his powerful beak and eaten him. Dejah Thoris could come to no other conclusion. Overcome by this shocking realization, she hung her head and wept in wretched anguish."
"I've lost my purpose for living," was the only thought could give voice to. Dejah Thoris was too numb to contemplate anything else.
One moment the Earthman was aware of Gizank's gargantuan corpse toppling into the dust of the forest trail and the next nothing was the same. The bird-man's body had simply vanished! John Carter looked about for the princess found her gone as well! He attempted to stand but that effort carried him high into the air.
"My earthly muscles -- I must have moved with too much force!" he thought. "But no, that can't be right, for I am still in the air. Or is this my mortal end?"
John Carter's return to the world of reality came swiftly, like the snapping of an overstrained piece of steel. He was still in the forest. The diminished weight of his body told him he was still on Barsoom. He yet breathed. But all else was a blur of new perceptions mixed with old memories.
"Woola!" he exclaimed.
From out of nowhere Martian watchdog was jumping upon him, licking his face, and roaring with fond satisfaction.
Then he saw the face of the green girl, Sola, bending over him. Her countenance shimmered like a mirage. Then he was back in his former setting, leaping down from the sky and landing beside the dead Gizank.
John Carter climbed onto the creature he had slain and his eyes searched the forest for Dejah Thoris. How the giant princess could vanish so quickly puzzled the Earthman.
"Dejah Thoris! Where are you?" he called out.
"She is right beside you, Dotar Sojat," a voice called out.
This was not spoken in the rumbling low tones of the giants; the voice sounded normal. How could that be? What was happening to him?
The second forest scene reappeared. He was sitting on a silk bed. The calot was again with him. -- And Sola. -- And also Oman.
"Are you real or an illusion?" John Carter demanded.
Both spoke at once, but it was Sola's voice that he best understood.
"You have slept for three days, Dotar Sojat," she said. "Now are you returning to what is real."
"You have been dreaming and only small parts of your dream have been real things. Since Vovo removed the stony paralysis from your hands you have been sinking into a terrible delusion of his own construction. We feared that you might never recover." Oman added.
"And what of Dejah Thoris?" John Carter entreated of the metal odwar.
"She is here," he replied. "But the Princess of Helium has not been so fortunate as you, Jasoomian. Vovo's deceptions have not have affected your otherworldly brain so strongly as they do hers. The wizard designed his traps for a Barsoomian mind, and hers is yet caught deep within his snare."
CHAPTER 63: "MEMORIES OF VOVO"
"How did Woola get here? -- and how did he return to this size? -- and Dejah Thoris --" the dazed Virginian questioned.
"Woola left me and came here after Vovo enchanted you!" said Sola. "Your faithful hound knew something was wrong and he tried to rescue you and the princess."
"Indeed that is true, Dotar Sojat," the robot added. "The calot killed the wizard before he could inflict the fullness of his intended perversions. Perhaps you understood that much, even in your sleep? I believe both you and Dejah Thoris sensed its presence. But neither the animal nor the princess were actually enlarged. Both have remained here at Eo these past three days, their sizes completely unchanged."
The man rose to his feet and stood over the placid figure. His heart beat with emotion, while his mind pictured what perils she yet faced in the wizard's evil delusions. Ignoring Oman's warning, he knelt down and touched her gently. The girl moved slightly but did not otherwise respond.
"So she yet dreams -- the same illusion that I once believed. Does she then still dream that she is a giant and that the bird-men will come again to harm her?" he asked Oman incredulously.
"If that is how you left her when you awakened, then yes, that is probably what she now experiences in her dream. But we cannot simply bring her back to this world by rousing her from her sleep. Vovo did not expand her body but he did change the way her mind functions. I think she needs to understand that fact before she can rejoin our reality. If she is not brought out of the delusion carefully, both her sanity and her life may be in grave danger."
"And how do you propose to bring her out of it?" demanded the Earthman.
"I have no idea, Dotar Sojat. It was Sola's idea to bring you into the forest and remove the glass enclosure from your bed. I had not thought of that, but I think it helped you. Perhaps the princess also needs the mild stimulation of familiar things and well-known voices."
Sola interrupted: "When you first woke up, you appeared to drift back and forth between your dream and our world. Why can't you go back to sleep beside her and rejoin her in the fantasy? If you could, then perhaps you could also tell my friend that Sola is waiting here to see her again!"
Their conversation continued along these lines, until John Carter agreed that it would be worthwhile to at least try and contact the sleeping princess in her slumber. Oman's mechano-men brought several different mind altering medications from the pharmaceutical workshops, and from them the metal odwar selected a compound that induced drowsiness and mental suggestiveness, without rendering its user fully incapacitated or incoherent.
"I'll take your potion," the Earthman said, "but it had better work the way you promise. These nightmares have gone on far too long and I'm ready to take the sleeping girl and leave Eo, if she does not begin to recover soon."
The Virginian downed the concoction and stretched himself out beside beautiful sleeper. Soon his eyes grew heavy and his mind drifted far from the little forest glade where Sola and Oman watched and waited.
Clouds were all that he could see. They rolled over the observer, carrying him into the green fog. The verdant mist thickened into all sorts of fantastic shapes, then flowed down into balls of yellow and orange. Above the clouds turned brilliant blue and below they shattered into fragments of red, brown, black and gray. Then the fragments joined together to become a single image.
John Carter was standing in a flower speckled meadow. On every side sparse clumps of small, white trunked trees merged into more distant stands of forest giants. At no great distance, across the meadow, be saw a slender red figure, topped by a mass of flowing raven tresses. In a single leap he was at her side. She turned and smiled. To Carter's amazement he had instantly found Dejah Thoris, her height miraculously reduced to normal!
"John, where did you come from?" she stammered. "I looked everywhere. I even searched the body -- but where has the bird-man gone? And why are you my size now, Dotar Sojat?"
"So many questions, my princess!" he replied. Then taking her in his arms, he said something else, "Is anything more important than our being together again? Can we just enjoy that for a moment -- without so many words?"
The girl's silence betokened her assent, but her thoughts flooded into his and Captain Carter knew that her many questions were troubling the girl greatly. Before long she broke the silence.
"John, I feel as though I've fallen from some great height, but I can't remember the fall. My thoughts had found solutions to so many problems, my chieftain. I wanted so badly to share that knowledge with others -- it was so beautiful. And now it is slipping through my fingers like water. I fear I am losing my mind!"
The Earthman's own mind was not entirely clear. He knew that he had sought the girl to tell her important things, but he was having difficulty recalling what it was he needed to say.
"Yes, Dejah Thoris," he began, "we are again the same size. Vovo's awful curse is lifting. Our perceptions are not so befogged by his drugs and his tricks as they previously were. Soon we can resume our journey and find your home. Can you think of Helium, my princess -- and of all the people there who await your safe return?"
The man's reappearance and his sympathetic words were at first soothing and pleasant, but at the mention of her homeland, the girl suddenly felt very small and helpless. The last threads of her giant's strength and assurance melted away and she could barely recall her own name.
"Helium?" She pondered the word aloud. "Helium is something -- it is something far away -- far away, beyond the trees, beyond the clouds..."
Dejah Thoris suddenly realized the immensity of the weird forest around her. She felt as though it were endless and Helium were some unseen star in the interminable heavens. Before she had seen the woods from above, but now she could only see them from below. They were so vast and she was so small and insignificant. A great fear came upon her -- the fear of falling for eternity.
She pulled back from the man's bare skin and the close embrace of his sheltering arms.
"Jump, mother! -- grandfather's flyer is plunging into the ground!"
CHAPTER 64: "DISTANT TRAVELER"
John Carter constructed a bower of large blue leaves and long scarlet grasses on the edge of the meadow and there he and the princess rested. She spoke constantly of her thirst and so he brought her juicy fruits and moist succlulent vegetable stems from the forest. But still she thirsted.
"Dear princess," he said, stroking her deep copper cheeks, "I will go back into the forest to find something cool for you to drink. We must build your strength back up. You've grown weak and I know your mind is weary. Will you wait here for my return?"
"You'll not be gone long?" the girl asked, wrapping her slender arms about his bronzed neck and pressing her full bosom tightly against the good man. "I do not like it when you are not here. Come close to me, my chieftain -- blend your body with mine the way you come so gently into my mind."
"I promise you, Dejah, "I'll not go far. The breezes may grow chilly, so I will find you a big soft leaf to fold over you when you sleep. The sooner, I go the sooner I can return."
"Then come back soon, John -- but leave the feelings of your heart here to comfort me!"
John Carter pressed her dainty hand to his lips and bade her farewell. Then he opened his eyes.
"It is getting late. I did not know I'd slept so long!" were his first words.
"Were you truly sleeping, Dotar Sojat?" Sola asked. "You seemed always on the edge of wakefulness. But no matter that. I read many of your thoughts, and through them the feelings of my dear friend the princess. She is like a hatchling, isn't she?"
John Carter had little idea what a red Martian was like, fresh out of the egg, but he had spent time with youngsters of the green race and understood Sola's meaning.
"An idea came to me, while I lay beside her," the Earthman explained. "I felt that I should be quite content to remain forever in that dreamland paradise with the red princess, but I know that is an illusion which holds her back from this world of real things. Although I would be happy to indulge my feelings and cultivate the girl's growing attachment to that imaginary place, I also know that would be wrong. I am a warrior of another world, but I have chosen to make Barsoom my home, come what may. I feel that I must now take a great risk and do what I can to bring Dejah Thoris back to this same Barsoom. It would be a sin to delay her awakening much longer."
"So, what then is your idea, Jasoomian?" Oman questioned.
The Virginian explained what had to be done. The green girl and the robot understood their parts in the scheme. It was already late afternoon and little time remained in which to do many things.
"When the Princess of Helium reawakens, I want her to see my face, before anything else." Sola charged the bronzed swordsman.
"Given what we have just decided," he answered. "I presume that she will. Now, young lady, let us gather up these things and help Oman with his preparations. The day grows short."
"Oh! you have returned, John!" the red princess cried out happily. "Have you brought me something to drink?"
John Carter took the fair maiden into his arms and held her tightly. Then they reclined together within the little bower.
"If you will believe me, I have a refreshing flask of pure water just out of sight. If you will indulge me in a game for a little while, you shall see that and some other things I've brought you."
"But of course, my chieftain!" the young woman said with a twinkle in her eye. "You know how I love games!"
The maiden playfully beat her hands upon his chest and the man amused her by following along with her antics. She made a dainty circlet of blossoms and placed it upon the warrior.
"I crown thee jedwar of the royal bedchamber!" she laughed. Then the princess crawled upon his prone frame and held down his wrists in a mock fight.
"For a jedwar you do not resist the foe very well. I have half a mind to demote your rank to the royal handmaidens' sandal polisher!" the Martian female teased.
Suddenly she let go and sat up very straight and proper. The woman's demeanor changed a little and a thoughtful look came into her wide eyes.
"John, do you suppose that the people of your world and people of mine could ever have children together?"
"A most intriguing question, Dejah Thoris. But before I answer, please look at something I brought for you," he replied.
"I see nothing at all," the princess said back quizzically.
"Then look again -- it is a blue cape, just like the cape that Sola likes to wear on cool evenings. Close your eyes half-way and try to visualize it. The fabric is very fine and you must try very hard to see it, my dear."
Dejah Thoris played the man's game. He shook her in a frisky sort of way and she peered though her eyelids. Then he shook her again, harder.
"Why yes! Yes I do! It's Sola's old blue cape. John, wherever did you find it?"
"Welcome back, my friend!" a voice called out.
The Princess of Helium rubbed her eyes in wonder. One last time the man made her body shake. Then she saw clearly.
"Sola! Can it possibly be? By Issus' blood, where have you been?"
The Thark maiden's face lit up in a rare smile. She reached out with her lower arms and pulled Dejah Thoris up to her.
"Princess," she laughed, "I think the more appropriate question is, where have you been!
CHAPTER 65: "CALL TO DUTY"
Now the Princess of Helium understood for certain that the lone visitor was Sola, the green woman. The look of recognition in Dejah Thoris' eyes evolved into a mien of regal poise and intelligence that hitherto had been absent from her beautiful countenance. The Thark saw this subtle transformation and adjusted to it flawlessly.
Kneeling before her mistress, she declared thankfully: "A desperate search for you at last brings reward, your majesty."
"Get up off your knees, you silly thing! Do you suppose I am the Jeddra of Helium or something!"
"Three days ago," Sola continued, "Oman, the mechanical man, showed me where you lay, above us on yon Plateau of Eo. My heart has been as water since that sad hour. Now you have at last come back to us -- to Dotar Sojat and Sola of Thark -- and are your old self again, as I have hoped for against all possibilities to the contrary. Let this outcast of Thark, your own dear friend Sola, rededicate herself to your service!"
The three friends spent the remainder of the day and much of the night sharing their interwoven experiences of the previous days. Only after many explanations and much happy feasting together did each of then comprehend fully what the others had been through. But now they were safely back where they had started, sheltered in the cliffs of the great plateau with Woola and the one remaining thoat from Thark. At last things made sense and they could enjoy the company of familiar companions around a crackling campfire.
The following morning the three friends resumed their reminiscences, while they loaded their sleeping silks and furs into the already bulging saddle bags.
"All of this Oman has provided for us?" the red princess asked in amazement.
"Two trips he made on the flying device, down from the mesa; one with Sola and your sleeping self and another with me as passenger. On the second flight we carried these things down here to this little camp. I declined his offer to send robots along with us, but he insisted that the mechanical camera birds accompany us for three days' travel. After that, we are on our own."
Then Sola broached a more sober subject: "I have heard that many brave Heliumite warriors have already lost their lives searching for you, Dejah Thoris. On Vovo's view screen both Dotar Sojat and myself saw the flyers departing Helium on regular schedules. If we watch the skies as we move to the north and the east, I am certain we shall see one of the search parties ere long."
The princess nodded in agreement. "It is my duty to return."
And so it was, that bright summer morning, that John Carter and Dejah Thoris, abandoning their dreams of a forest paradise, set out with Sola toward the faraway Kingdom of Helium.
"We now leave the rocky soil of the mountain," John Carter spoke, "and before us stretches the thick moss of the dead sea floor. The thoat is happy grazing on the yellow stuff and Woola scampers off on lizard's trail. But our cheerful journey now assumes more dangerous aspects, as we all well know. I pray that you can guide us safely through these desert wastes!"
"I know where we are, chieftain," Sola replied, "but we are far from Helium and it may be a very difficult journey. The last time I was here was years ago and it took the caravan twenty days to reach the capital of Thark. We shall not go that far before we hit upon a waterway, I presume. If it be a familiar one, the princess will thenceforth be the guide. Until then, I do my best."
"I have a boon to ask of you both, my friends, when we reach the first habitations of strangers on this journey." Sola asked most seriously.
"And what might that be," Dejah Thoris called down from atop the thoat.
"That your majesty and the brave chieftain make no mention of my role in your escape nor in any of your experiences since our leaving Thark. If you must say anything, you can truthfully report that you met me north of Go-La-Ra and leave it at that. Once I know my father's fate, I will release you from your promise, at least in part. But until then, the safety of Tars Tarkas I impress upon your thoughts, ahead of my own life, if need be."
Both humans made that promise to the green maiden, and thus it came to pass that little was ever said of all that faithful Sola of Thark did in the service of Dejah Thoris and John Carter. In fact, Captain Carter's own account greatly abbreviates Sola's part in his adventures on Mars, and that omission was made with her approval and at her request.
Near the end of their first day back on the dead sea bottom, the little party stopped to spend the night under a rock outcrop in grim wasteland. There they found numerous fossilized bones of former denizens of the Martian deep. The princess, who knew more of these creatures and of Barsoom's ancient past than did her two companions put together, amused them with tales of the days when Mars was young. The accounts she gave were so vivid and imaginative that they held her auditors' attention until well after the sun had gone down.
When all the tales were told and the three companions settled in for the night, John Carter exchanged telepathic thoughts with the princess for a short time.
"Where I come from, dear princess, it would be a rude act indeed for a gentleman to intrude upon a lady's dreams. We have been through an extraordinary experience. But forgive me if I do not speak much about it. My life as a fighting man lies in this world and not in the realm of fantasy."
Dejah Thoris has not shared what else the two close friends spoke of that night, under the hurtling moons of Mars, but from all indications she and the Warlord have provided over the years, they too came to an agreement not to say much of the perils that they faced between the night of their escape from Thark and the day of their departure from Eo. So it is that Sola's story, along with an account of many other important happenings, was long kept from the knowledge of Captain Carter's friends.
Be that as it may, the closeness that the two shared in their dreamland fantasy forever entwined the fates of the fighting man and the red princes. And it was from that time forward that the mutual passion and affection they shared grew into the most remarkable love story two worlds have ever known.
CHAPTER 66: "LOST!"
The happiness they shared in escaping the clutches of Vovo the Wizard of Eo was only made brighter now that the princess and the warrior from another planet again traveled in the company of Sola, the winsome daughter of Tars Tarkas of Thark. At first the princess recounted many of her recent mishaps to the attentive green girl, but she soon saw the discomfort that caused the Virginian swordsman and she ceased her amazing stories. In all his years John Carter had never feared an enemy, but he preferred not to do battle with phantoms in the uncharted byways of his own brain. The discovery that he and the woman he secretly loved had shared the same illusions, wrought by the cunning Vovo. was unsettling to the forthright soldier of a thousand campaigns. He seldom spoke of the fantastic episode at Eo; While Dejah Thoris, puzzled by the man's inexplicible silence, guessed she had again mistaken his intentions. She concealed her swelling feelings behind an amicable smile and, like her otherworldly companion, refrained from discussing their dreamworld adventures and intimacies -- even with him.
The load of provisions bestowed upon them by Oman, the mecho-man of Eo burdened their poor thoat so heavily that only the tender-footed Dejah Thoris rode atop the great beast, much against her will. In their saddlebags were bundles of food, warm capes, excellent weapons, and even a handful of precious jewels, useful as money anywhere on the dying red planet. However, the robot did not give up the secrets of Eo's advanced technology. The scientists of far off Helium would have to discover the principles of anti-gravity and television minus the erudition of the Wizards of Eo.
John Carter and the green girl walked along beside the naked red princess, following a map Oman provided, as best they could in a barren country that offered few landmarks. They calculated the distance northwestward to Thark, and from there to the outskirts of the Empire of Helium. They knew that the air fleets of Tardos Mors were yet searching the skies for the lost princess. "Hope springs eternal, even on bloody Barsoom," Dejah Thoris sighed, paraphrasing a favorite saying of the Earthman. John Carter nodded in agreement.
Several times Sola detected signs of her horde's near presence, but they all thought it best to circle around the Thark camps and outposts. When the green maiden guessed they might be close to the barbarians' capital she sent faithful Woola out with a cryptic message attached to his collar -- a message that her father alone would comprehend, if he yet lived. The devoted calot trotted off upon this arduous mission, only glancing back once, over his massive shoulders, as though to say "I'll be back." But days passed and Woola did not return. For reasons they never understood, the markings on their parchment guide resembled less and less their surroundings as the days of travel wore on. Dejah Thoris and her little party wandered over the forsaken wastes of the Martian desert, searching continually for the canal that would lead them to her grandfather's dominions. Several days after the departure of their watchdog, the travelers at last saw in the distance a range of hills that seemed to match the position of some lines on their sketchy map. With luck they might find the waterway to Helium on the other side. Then, from her high saddle upon the travel worn thoat Dejah Thoris suddenly cried out: "Look, John -- at the foot of those mountains across the plain -- a great band of mounted men!"
Sola and the Earthman gazed across miles of the dead sea bottom, and there, plainly discernible, were a hundred mounted warriors or more. The distant riders seemed to be headed away from the three lost pilgrims, but Carter peered through the powerful binoculars Oman had throughtfully provided them, just to make certain the distant band was no threat to them. The steel gray eyes of the deathless Virginian took in the fantastic, silent panoply for many long moments before at last spoke a few grim words. "After what we've seen -- or thought we'd seen -- at Eo, I hope I can trust my vision now. They're green desert tribesmen -- Tharks, maybe." He fell silent and gazed upon the Princess of Helium's flawless face. If she was afraid she did not show it.
Sola took the glasses. Her trained gaze caught many interesting things in that strange, distant scene -- small details which had escaped the Earthman's inspection. "No -- not my people -- Warhoons, I believe. Our most ferocious and cruel enemies!" Then she added, "All are young warriors, carrying only weapons and a few woven bags. They are headhunters, no doubt about it And if we can see them, they can see us!"
John Carter lifted the red girl down from the thoat while Sola sent a telepathic order to their mount to lie down upon the ground. There, in the soft yellow moss, they ducked down behind the beast, presenting as small an object as possible to the eyes of the headhunters. It was hardly the time or the place for a lesson in Barsoomian anthropology, but Dejah Thoris' questions to her female companion did not go unanswered. The young savages were seeking skulls to adorn their unclothed green bodies, and it did not matter to them whether their prey were six limbed giants or slender red Martians -- either sort of victim might offer a suitable sun-bleached cranium for a Warhoon necklace.
A rear guard scout, wearing the metal of a chieftain, was riding far out from the main body of green men. He halted his lavishly ornamented gray steed and scanned the ochre hued landscape through a set of uniquely designed and powerful field-glasses. Through this bizarre looking apparatus the barbarous chieftain's wide-set organs of vision scrutinized the sea bottom in all directions, practically simultaneously, searching for precious plunder and potential victims -- preferably ones who might furnish nice bloody heads for his empty carry-bag!
Just when it appeared as though the lone Warhoon had given up his intensive searching, the scout trained his dual scopes in the direction of the downed thoat and then paused for several seemingly endless seconds. The trio held their breaths behind the quiet animal -- and waited. Then the lone rider lowered his remarkable observation instrument and waved his arms frantically at his fellow headhunters. He had spotted them! Shrieking wildly, the chieftain and his warriors raced across the plain, closing the gap between themselves and the travelers' downed thoat almost as rapidly as the princess and her companions could take in this lightning paced change of fortune.
In a flash Sola pulled the long barreled rifle they carried from its holster at the rear of the saddle. The green girl handed the lethal, loaded weapon to John Carter. No words were necessary. The three had all spent time practicing shooting this splendid product from Eo's arsenal. The Earthman was the best shot among them and the finely balanced firearm fell into his waiting arms like a silvery bird swooping into its empty nest. His first shot glanced off the advance rider's metal helmet and exploded in a bright flash and a cloud of white smoke a foot or two away. The green man wheeled his thoat and John Carter temporarily lost sight of the great barbarian, behind a small rise in the moss covered Martian landscape.
CHAPTER 67: "FAREWELL"
Leaping to his feet the Virginian ordered their thoat to rise. He pulled the red princess to her feet, beside him, and urged Sola to mount the beast at once. "My Princess, you must go with her!" he bid the noble daughter of Helium. "In the ravines between here and the hills you can find temporary hiding places. Sola knows how to elude these bloodthirsty enemies -- if I can just delay their pursuit for a while."
Before he could finish his sentence, the red girl took him by one arm and gazed up into the anxious bronze face. "Three guns can kill more than one, John. There is yet hope. The royal women of Barsoom do not flee in the face of inescapable danger; you should know that by now."
"Then think of your duty to Helium, for God's sake! Brave men may be dying in the search for you, even as we speak. If you perish in your flight, it will still be a thousand times better than the fate that awaits you here! Flee, while there is yet time!" The Earthman was no longer beseeching the girl -- he was commanding her. The highborn maid of Mars objected strenuously; it was she who had given the orders all her adult life, not her guards and soldiers. Her resonant arguments had no effect on the determined man and so Dejah Thoris quickly changed her methods of persuasion. Throwing her lithe arms about his neck, she implored him with a calm dignity: "Sola may go if she wishes, but I'll stay to die with you, my Chieftain."
The sweet meaning of her soft-spoken declaration pierced the Earthman's senses like the radiant sunshine of the cloudless Martian noonday. Pressing his lips to hers for the first time in the real world, the Virginia Captain held her for an all too brief moment. The day he had long hoped for had arrived; but fate can be terribly cruel in granting a man's wishes. There was no time for him to pause and feel the flawless skin of her bosom pressed tightly against him. His indulgence in the luxuriant flow of her long black hair down upon his bronzed forearms was but a transitory boon of the gods. Unless he acted immediately, unmerciful Death would overtake them all! With the exquisite young lady yet embraced under one strong arm, John Carter pulled twin pistols from the saddlebags. One of these he pushed into the waiting hands of each of the two girls. Then, without warning he lifted Dejah Thoris up into Sola's grasp and onto the beast's saddle, behind the mounted Thark female.
"I'd gladly die a thousand deaths for you -- but we shall meet in Helium yet. I have escaped from worse plights than this," the swordsman shouted. He slapped the great animal upon the rump and the thoat started off at the gallop. "I love..." but they were already out of hearing range, before Captain Carter could finish his emotion choked sentence.
A moment later the lead rider emerged into sight, a mile in the distance, while his entire wild band rode down into the gulches, a few hundred yards behind. Raising the Martian rifle again to his shoulder, John Carter took aim through the telescopic sights at the lead Warhoon. As he touched the button which controlled the trigger, faint telepathic words floated into his mind, "I did not want to leave you, John Carter -- you are the man I love." Then there was a sharp explosion as the missile reached its goal, and the charging chieftain pitched forward from his slain mount. In a tangle of many legs and arms the rider and the huge thoat rolled over three times in the thick moss. Then all was still. The sniper had a minute's respite and he positioned himself behind a patch of stunted mantalia bushes. He counted out a hundred high-explosive atomic cartridges, fed them into the weapon's magazine and peered through the rifle sights.
In the distance he beheld the oncoming savages, just then emerging from the gulches, looking for their chieftain. In a moment they saw him lying dead upon the carcass of his mount. This halted their onrush only until one savage had stripped the chieftain of his harness and weapons -- and removed his head. The long sword of the dead green man would be returned to his clan, as a token of honor. But his head would soon augment the necklace of the band's sub-chieftain!
Ere the scavenger had remounted, John Carter commenced firing upon them. His missiles reaped a deadly toll upon the Warhoons, but they also gave away his position. Breaking into a dozen small groups the remaining barbarian riders came at him again. In the meanwhile Dejah Thoris and Sola ranged far to one side of the excited warriors and appeared to have reached the relative safety of the mountains, undetected.
Lying flat upon his belly in the moss, John Carter kept up a continuous stream of fire upon the approaching warriors. Many green souls he dispatched to Barsoom's hidden hells that warm afternoon, but many more survived his hail of fire. Before long his ammunition was exhausted and the former Confederate officer cast aside the empty rifle. "My dragoons could have put such a gun to good use -- at Chickamauga!" he laughed. The Earthman's twinge of grim humor ceased when he saw a dozen mounted savages entering the brush to one side of him, just a stone's throw away. He sprang up and started off in the direction exactly opposite to that taken by Sola and her charge, fifteen minutes before.
John Carter's powerful muscles carried him over yards of the dead sea bottom in every leap, but he could hope to outdistance the swift, unfailing pursuit of the Martian warsteeds. He could only try to distract and delay the terrible riders. On the journey to the Tharkan capital he had heard his green companions speak with respect concerning the Warhoon horde. The younger warriors boasted of how they would slay their neighboring foemen with a single thrust of a long-sword, but the battle-worn veterans were much less boisterous in this subject. They displayed the scars of their old war wounds and muttered sullenly that the fearless and cunning cavalry of Warhoon was a force not easily reckoned with. And, at the rate they were gaining upon him, those depraved thoatmen might soon have him in their clutches.
The telescopes fashioned by the robots of Eo are technical marvels beyond the imagination of most Martians, to say nothing of the lens makers on Captain Carter's blue planet. From a position of seclusion in the rocky hills Dejah Thoris and Sola gazed anxiously through these devices, upon the frightful scene playing out before them. Additional bands of the Warhoon riders had appeared on the horizon -- one displaying the fluttering colors of a Jed field marshal. The Earthman, whom one girl cherished as a second father, and whom the other one loved as the man of her dreams, was hopelessly outnumbered and encircled by the enemy on every side. Safely hidden at their elevated vantage point, the maids of Barsoom watched with dismay as the living noose of Warhoon warriors tightened upon Captain John Carter of Jasoom.
His exhibition of jumping skills astonished the giant six-limbed warriors only temporarily, but it served to focus their undivided attention upon the bronze-skinned little man. Even the late arriving royal Jed's party stopped in their tracks to rub their bulging, disbelieving eyes, while the dismounted scavenging headhunters on the fringes of the troop halted their gory butchery of fallen comrades to witness the outlander's antic bouncing. Distracted as they were, none of these wild, unclad sons of the desert had observed the girls' escape and none guessed that two apprehensive Barsoomian females were watching their every movement from afar at that very moment.
CHAPTER 68: "ELUSIVE PREY"
The Earthman's powerful muscles sent him twenty feet above the closest charging Martians. From this unlikely position he caught his pursuers unawares and hurled down his short-sword with deadly accuracy. With the razor sharp blade protruding from his still throbbing heart, one more green rider went down in the frantic fray. The Warhoon Jed, Dak Kova the Dreadful, had at that very instant arrived at the scene of extraordinary activity. The green giant watched with cruel, unblinking eyes as John Carter alighted, no more than a thousand paces away. Unlike his practically nude underlings, this enormous monster was decked out in all the finery that barbaric imagination could fashion. From the leader's golden helmet two dozen ornamental spikes projected, each one tipped with a dazzling gemstone, cut to a perfect conical point. Dak Kova's four fat wrists were wrapped with massive bracelets of rare, ruby-like Martian jewels, each strand worth a jeddak's ransom. His massive chest harness was sewn from the skins of butchered red men and studded with their extracted incisors, set in disks of silver. About his neck drooped a wicked necklace of jawless human skulls, while his lower waist belt and loin straps were hung with slender banners of cloth-of-gold, framing a dangling, priceless bauble that scarcely concealed his organs of generation. Dak Kova carried himself with an air of majesty befitting an emperor, and he sported the tusky sneer of a hydrophobic calot. Altogether the Warhoon Jed was an exemplary specimen of the dying planet's monarchical masculinity!
"Take him alive, now!" this sublime luminary bellowed. "He'll make rare sport for the Great Games We'll see if he can still jump so high with my dagger stuck in his backside!" But this derisive command was barely audible above the shouts and screams of his clamoring, berserk subordinates. And so the Earthman was off and running again, before a single green hand could touch him. But there remained little open space left for playing hounds and rabbit upon the dead sea bottom. No matter how he dodged and changed his direction, John Carter's field of movement steady decreased. As the barbaric fighters drew in closer, from all sides, they began to dismount and regroup around the Earthman in a solid ring of giant bodies. He was left with no place to jump and with less than fifty feet between himself and one grinning, dull-witted monster who now ran at him -- with four sets of ugly claws extended meanacingly.
As luck would have it, the Earthman's series of leaps had brought him back around to his earlier position in the mantalia brush. Grabbing his discarded, empty rifle, the fighting man smiled mirthlessly in the face of the unrushing peril and clubbed the ugly, exposed face of his attacker right between the eyes. The giant toppled like a hewn sorapus at the toes of John Carter's trail-worn boots. But before the massive body touched the ocher sea bed, a dozen others had taken his place. The defender stumbled over a projecting slab of quartz, and down he went, sprawling face forward upon the pliant moss. With whoops of exultation and obscene oaths of murder the feather festooned mobsters rushed at their disabled prey. John Carter barely had time to rise to his feet and draw his long-sword before half a hundred cruel enemies were upon him. Had their slain chieftain yet lived, the gigantic brute might have claimed the satisfaction of matching arms with the diminutive outlander, in a sanguine exhibition of single combat. Such trivial sport was, however, beneath the dignity of the mounted Warhoon Jed. Dak Kova, at that moment exerted his military authority in a thunderous voice, once again ordering the warriors to take the little man alive. But every green man within a hundred yards of Captain Carter had pulled out his own sharp-pointed flesh-poker and a dozen of them were already thrusting madly at their elusive human victim.
Due to all this sudden misfortune, the ageless fighting man was once again in a most familiar situation. "If I must finally die, oh unmerciful Ares, then let it come this way and let it come now!" John Carter exclaimed, using a long forgotten tongue from his home planet. The last assault fell upon him. Never had Mars witnessed such swordsmanship! The Earthman's keen blade wove a web of deadly steel all about him, but the finest swordsman in the universe could not have held back that green tide for very long. All the soldier of a hundred lifetimes could do was try to sell his blood as dearly as possible, knowing the love he had sought for unnumbered ages could now live on Barsoom -- and mourn his final, unstinting tenacity in the jaws of death. Every fiber of his well muscled body strained under the incessant swordplay. The outlander was nicked and bleeding from half a dozen cuts, but none were yet so serious as to slow his powerful right arm. One more Warhoon collapsed with a blade hole in his breast, spurting blood. Atop this lifeless hulk the brave swordsman took his final stand, feinting and darting his unyielding point more swiftly than the giants' senses could follow.
An eye-blink took a year; a heartbeat a century. The lumbering foe appeared to him as though they were participants in some great spectacle of dance, slowing down into statuesque poses -- with sword-arms suspended in mid air. Ages passed in an instant and an instant lasted a lifetime. Hazy scenes of a placid Mediterranean harbor passed before the greatest swordsman of two worlds. The waves lapped gently upon piers of sturdy cedar. Robes of Tyrean purple and caskets of Ophirian gold were stacked to the rafters of an ancient storeroom, already old when the pyramids were yet young. Naked slaves sang as they loaded cargo at the dockside. A wooden ship with a gilded bull's head carved into its prow bounded into the spray before the incessant wind. Attacking pirates vaulted balls of fire onto billowing hempen sails. Images of terrible storms, powerful whirpools and twenty foot breakers came and went. A vast ocean stretched before the spellbound observer. Ruddy faces peered down from the tops of white chalk cliffs, watching. Watching what? They were observing companies of javelin-armed, bronze-helmeted marines disembarking from vessels flying colors topped by imperial eagles. Villages burned; castles fell. Armadas perished. Troopers in coats of blue rode onto the portico of a stately mansion. They were breaking down its double doors and flinging firebrands among screaming women and children. A cannon ball sped overhead the acrid smoke of a thousand muskets turned sunny skies to into gray, misty evening.
A palpable silence swallowed up all traces of sound. Impenetrable clouds blotted out every hue and form. The world stood frozen and in all the universe the only motion left unstopped was the beating of John Carter's heart. The only memory left in his brain -- a sad-eyed, copper colored face. The countenance of a woman, blurred and dim. But the thought refused to fade away. The face lingered hauntingly. It was the face of Dejah Thoris, a princess of Mars!
"I yet live!" he cried out.
In the twinkling of an eye the weird spell broke. Warhoon blades again flashed in the thin air about him and the unrelenting din of battle on an alien world closed in from all directions. Vainly he struggled to dispatch one last foeman. But the odds against the brave swordsman were overwhelming. It was over. The Earthman reeled beneath countless strikes, which fell upon him from every side in terrific torrents; his head swam; a cold blackness stole over his consciousness, and Captain John Carter of Virginia went down beneath the bloody blows, into oblivion.
CHAPTER 69: "CAPTIVE"
John Carter had fought savagely against the Martian headhunters who sought to capture him. The rare sport of this day's chase would be told and retold around the Warhoon campfires and drinking rooms for weeks to come. But among the great troop headed back to the Warhoon capital, only Dak Kova was crafty enough to fully comprehend the beating his unruly cavalry had taken. "One little human killed over fifty of us. Great Issus!" he exclaimed to nobody in particular. "Another twenty fighters so wounded that they'll be useless for a month! Hah! This humiliation calls for vengeance. My own fingers will see to that!" One of his powerful upper hand absentmindedly crushed the skulls in his necklace, as the unhappy green Jed imagined different ways to assuage his offended sense of honor.
The limp body of the little swordsman had been lashed by two junior fighters to the back of a huge sub-chieftain's squealing thoat. The many little rivulets of blood that crisscrossed the outlander's flesh had dried into an irregular pattern of lines reminiscent of the canals and deserts of the warlike world. John Carter's lifeless frame was a horrid sight to behold. But the two Martian girls who secretly spied upon the killing ground from across the plain were spared the unpleasant display. All they had been able to discern from that great distance was that the Warhoon Jed had maneuvered his mount close behind the tottering Earthman and leaned over to deal the human a smashing blow with the flat of his sword, just as he collapsed and disappeared from the girls' strained glimpses through the turmoil of that terrible struggle.
Now that the last of the Warhoon riders had departed the two Martian maidens came out of concealment and telescopically scanned the plain. Sola gazed upon the many Warhoon bodies, slain by their otherworldly friend and rendered headless by their fellow green men. She was more than used to such horrendous sights, but the mutilated corpses sickened the red girl. When a pair of wild calots appeared among the dead and began their gruesome feasting, the Heliumite princess turned her tear-filled eyes away and shook her head in despair. Dejah Thoris cried to Sola: "They've killed him!"
For a while the Thark female said nothing. Meticulously she examined every square sofad of the bloody landscape. At last she picked out the lineaments of a torn cape and a crimsoned warrior's harness, both too small to have belonged to Warhoon adults. John Carter had been beaten and stripped, but his body was gone. That much was certain. At last Sola replied: "Headhunters do not carry away dead men's bodies. Your man yet lived when the warriors departed."
The Princess of Helium took a deep breath of relief at this news, dried her eyes and held her head high once again. "Then we must reach Helium all the more quickly, dear friend. A hundred battle fliers will fill these skies within a few hours after I return. I promise that!" she cried. Then, in softer tones -- "I did not want to leave him, Sola, I love him."
With their captive prize, Dak Kova and his warriors raced toward the ancient city of Warhoon, situate on the banks of the southeastern dead sea. The troop exchanged mounts at an outpost late that night. The lesser moon was just rising when the Jed and five hundred men rode back out upon the empty plains. The most badly wounded of his men the great Jed left there to fend for themselves. Deprived of their thoats and weapons stragglers must trek back to the capital city. This is the Warhoon custom and it effectively weeds out the weaker members of the barbarian horde.
Another day passed without incident. Dak Kova's band entered the decaying ruins of the great metropolis after sunset. The green men of Barsoom display little inclination to build, but the towering walls of the city from which the horde takes its name are an exception to that truism. Rebuilt and reinforced for millennia, the vanished white race who constructed Warhoon before history began would scarcely recognize the massive ersite piles today. Taking the shape of a huge, sixteen-pointed star, the walls feature protruding blockhouses at every turn. All along the top are gun emplacements -- with the barrels pointed upward. No sane foe attacks the green race's fortified cities from the ground, without first inflicting great damage from the skies. Much of Warhoon's wealth is invested in its walls, but the greatest treasure of the barbarian horde is spent upon its artillery pieces -- each and every one a product of the arsenals of Eo.
As the savage caravan entered the gates of Warhoon a spark of life yet lingered in the Earthman's breast. For two days his festering wounds had received no care at all. Nor had a single drop of water wet his parched lips. He clung to the world of the living by the slenderest of threads and could not have lasted another hour, much less another day. But in savage Warhoon the rudiments of battlefield medicine were still remembered. That, along with gunnery, constitutes what little science the more intelligent green Martians have elected to salvage, out of all the compiled knowledge of the ages.
[In Captain Carter's telling of his adventures the chronology is a little confused. Events he has transpiring upon the road to the capital actually took place within the vast city, between the walls and the royal palace. This is a small matter in the memories of a man who awoke in strange surroundings and who was at first barely cognizant of his situation in that hoary metropolis.]
When the Earthman regained consciousness he was lying among a pile of silks and furs, in the corner of a small room lit by flickering candles and a single radium torch, the brilliant beam of which shone directly into his astonished eyes.
"He will live, O Jed," grunted the ancient and ugly green female who was just then completing a cursory examination of the badly injured man. She and several curious warriors were bending over John Carter -- and arguing among themselves about whether he was truly a man of the red race.
"Cease your stupid chatter!" Dak Kova barked, and they fell silent immediately.
"I care not whether he is an albino Zodangan, or a survivor of the sickly pale runts who lived in Warhoon, before time began." Then the Jed stroked a mangled ear on his forehead and stared at the ceiling a moment, as if lost in thought. A hint of a smile played upon his lips. "All I need to know is if he will recover in time to take part in the Great Games?"
"Indeed, he will, sire," promised the aged green woman. "He is already responding to my medicinal vapors. I can thicken his blood and restore his vigor in a matter of days." The unsightly nurse used an obscene word that brought forth a chuckle from the great Jed.
"Then I must sharpen my dagger, so I can take another trophy for my necklace, eh!"
They snickered aloud at the crude humor of the broken-tusked field marshal. His olive skinned upper breast was already adorned with two skulls of the red race, along with other severed human body parts, best left unmentioned.
CHAPTER 70: "DAK KOVA'S PRIZE"
John Carter slipped back into blissful unconsciousness. The green hag strapped the Earthman securely onto the thoat that had carried him hither, but now the old nurse occupied the saddle and from there attentended to the wounded human. Thousands of years of constant warfare had given the six-limbed giants plenty of time in which practice their therapeutic powers while on the run. Once again the caravan was in motion. The vastness of ancient Warhoon swallowed up the savage riders as they moved silently through its lonely, dilapidated avenues. Here and there campfires flickered amidst the ruins, where the green race lived as nomads among the deserted buildings and courtyards. Only the royal family and a handful of powerful nobles lived in dwellings that remotely resembled the habitations of civilized beings.
One set of gigantic buildings still retained some semblance of archaic grandeur. This was the well guarded palace of the Jeddak of the hordes of Warhoon. And standing directly behind these impressive piles was a lofty citadel. Viewed together, these two clusters of prehistoric architecture were an imposing sight to behold. Here and there the remains of statuary and wall carvings offered a hint of the lost culture that once flourished within the ancient city. But the barbarian band moved past these monumental ruins without a sideward glance. They were headed for the Jeddak's ceremonial encampment in the great plaza of Warhoon
In the short hour he spent under the green hag's care John Carter's wounds began to heal with amazing quickness. So effective were the applications and injections of the elderly female, and so deftly had she bound and plastered his injuries, that the Earthman awoke to find his pain greatly eased. His hunger and thirst were alleviated with a few gulps of cold meat stew provided by the nurse. It was the first and last resembling kindness that he ever witnessed among the Warhoon.
Soon Dak Kova the Dreadful and his cortege reached the city center and the ring of sentinels guarding the Jeddak's array of huge tents, guardhouses, thoat pens and decaying trash heaps. The Warhoon nurse pulled John Carter from the thoat's back, splashed a pail of water over his blood-caked, nude figure and handed him a crutch. The walking-stick proved to be unnecessary and the injured Earthman managed to hobble through the darkness, closely following the Jed's dismounted lieutenants. At the entrance to the royal tent bonfires lit up a knot of evil looking guards, who paid their minimal respects by remaining silent and sullenly attentive as Dak Kova strode by.
Inside the great tent a red slave appeared, bowed low before Dak Kova and then approached the throne at the far end of the tent, crawling upon his hands and knees.
"Oh Majestic Lord of the Land! Mighty General and Commander! Bar Konas, Jeddak of Warhoon and Governor of all her Tributaries! The Jed of the Banth Horde seeks audience with Your Lordship!"
Bright torches illuminated the spacious interior and furnished sufficient light for John Carter to scrutinize the seated figure of the Warhoon Jeddak even at a distance. Like Jed Dak Kova, he was frightfully scarred, and also decorated with the breastplate of human skulls and dried body parts which marks all the commanding royality and nobility among the Warhoon. Not even the feriocious Tharks (whom the Warhoon claim are a subordinate horde in rebellion to their authority) are so vicious as to suspend the rotting, detached arms of children, breasts of women, and intestines of male victims from their corpulent necks.
Despite his many battle scars and larger mass, the Jeddak Bar Komas was obviously much younger than Jed Dak Kova and most of the other high-ranking giants at the ceremonial encampment. John Carter, standing to one side of his captor, comprehend at once the hatred and contempt that filled the Jed's dark heart. Dak Kova was clearly making an attempt to affront his superior, by omitting the obsequious salutations due the preeminent leader of the hordes. Instead he roughly pushed the bronze-skinned outlander before the ruler and loudly exclaimed, "I have captured this strange creature for exhibition in the Great Games. I found him in the stolen metal of a Thark, but he can run from an enemy faster than any Thark! He wasted my time and he will see a dastard's death!"
"You dishonor the respect shown this throne by your fathers, Dak Kova! The little man will die as your jeddak, sees fit, if at all," replied the young ruler, in a carefully measured response. "Now place him in the dungeons until ..."
"If at all?" roared Dak Kova. "He is my prisoner and he shall be meat for the wild thoats in the Great Games. We have no need for your weak indecision here -- it is time that Warhoon is ruled by warriors and not a water-hearted weakling who shames his grandfather's metal!"
Before old Dak Kova could finish his treat -- to tear the metal from Bar Komas' harness with his bare hands -- the monster on the barbaric dais had hurled himself across the open space and struck his scornful subordinate terrific blows from his two right fists. It appeared to all that the jeddak's might had prevailed, but as he drew apart from the half-downed jed, Bar Komas teetered in his balance for an instant. It was all the opening that Dak Kova needed, and leaping upward from his knees the powerful giant buried his single good lower tusk in Bar Comas' groin and ripped the young leader open all the way to the chin.
All of this occurred in less time than the telling of it takes. Not a single sword was raised in Bar Komas' defense and, until his lieutenants stepped forward to offer their support, not a finger in the great tent was moved to assist the rebellious jed. Bar Komas lay stone dead in his gore, and two shattered bones protruded from Dak Kova's blood-drenched hide. By custom he was now the uncrowned Jeddak of Warhoon. In a day or two, after his wounds had been treated, he would return to the tent to sever the unmoved corpse's head and hands. Then, by placing a foot upon the stub of a neck Dak Kova the Dreadful could assume the title and honors of his erstwhile ruler.
The uncanny stillness was at last broken by wild and terrible laughter. The assembled nobles gathered their retainers about them and filed out of the tent behind the reeling but still conscious Dak Kova. The lights were extinguished; the guard disbanded and replaced by few of the new ruler's trusted clansmen. All John Carter could do was guess that such events were commonplace in uncivilized Warhoon, as he also followed the substitute jeddak's trail of blood out into the open plaza. Barely able to stand, the injured Earthman offered no resistance as rough green hands dragged him off to an old dungeon beneath the royal palace. While Dak Kova recovered from his impairment in barbarous comfort, ten floors above, the captive swordsman could lick his wounds, in the gloom and stench of a basement cell where he had been thrown -- to await certain death in the Great Games.
The speed with which these latest events had transpired left the weakened fighting man dazed and exhausted. One scene blended into another as he struggled to remain alert. Along the way to his cell he overheard some Warhoon guards muttering in disappointment over some changes in schedule concerning a planned raid upon Thark. Captain Carter groggily wished he might somehow inform Tars Tarkas of the impending danger -- then there was a cold, slimy floor, a pile of bones for a pillow, and nothing else but deathly silence.
CHAPTER 71: "THE JAILOR DIES"
A single ray of light broke the midnight darkness of the subterranean cell. This scant illumination was constant, but other than a paper-thin crack beneath the blocked-up food hole in the bulky wooden door and a few dusty cobwebs, the tiny light revealed nothing. The remainder of the room -- John Carter guessed it was a room of some kind -- was bathed in inky blackness. He shouted but there were no echoes. He cast bits of rubbish into the air and tried to tell whether they were striking distant stone walls or merely bouncing upon the floor. In frustration he gave up that useless work. Probably it was a cell of no great dimensions, constructed entirely of steel-hard stone broken by a single entrance with a locked door. He pushed aside handfuls of decaying garbage and made a place to sleep in a corner two body lengths from the dim beam.
How many days passed, he could not tell. But if the growth of his scant beard and other bodily signs could be trusted, the food hole at the bottom of the wooden door was only opened at intervals of two or three days each. The slop that arrived through this mysterious means was a unmentionably disgusting concoction delivered in animal bladders, but the Earthman downed each portion of the changeless menu of meat stew as though it might be his last. Slowly his former health and energy returned.
He was heavily chained to the floor and walls but the bonds were flexible enough and the chains long enough to allow him two body lengths of movement -- the distance to the near edge of the doorway and an equal span, in the opposite direction, to his familiar corner. He was at least able to give his muscles some exercise. The Earthman's only physical preoccupation in the utter darkness was the monotonous lifting and lowering of his own body. That effort kept him limber and strong but not even his alien sinews could break free of those thick steel bonds.
In conversations with friends Captain Carter has said that this confinement in the basements of Warhoon's royal palace was the most horrible experience of his entire life. Considering all that the great swordsman has been through, in years beyond number, survival in that silent dungeon must have been a terrible thing indeed. Often his thoughts verged on madness. He would recite every word he knew, in alphabetical order, and then recite the list again, backwards. He spoke to his shackles, as though they were living beings. Eventually he plucked out his light beard, lost count of the food deliveries and could not tell whether he lay there on that cold stone floor for weeks, months or years. Only his recollections of a red-skinned Martian maid and the one sweet kiss they had shared provided any mental comfort -- and that small happiness was broken by the realization that he did not know whether she had survived her attempted escape from the same cruel monsters who kept him penned up in his own offal, like a rat in a hole.
"I've dined on worms and insects I could never recognize in the daylight," Captain Carter once revealed to Vad Varo of Duhor. "The place where the Warhoon threw me was filled with little crawling creatures; cold, sinuous bodies and unseen flying things, whose bites left excruciating sores -- I learned how to grab and eat them all, unwashed and uncooked. Perhaps that gave me the strength to stay live. At least it gave me one more reason to relish the thought of murdering my green jailers in a thousand different ways!"
His wish regarding the fate of the jailers finally came to fruition, in a weird sort of way. Somehow the cover to the food hole became stuck in place and one lazy cell guard began opening the door to deposit Captain Carter's rare repasts, rather than expending the thought and energy needed to make the repairs. Each time the green man came he always advanced with his dim torch a few steps inside the door. In order to enter the ancient cell the jailer was forced to bend over, for the doorway had been constructed for a human being of normal size. Whenever the Warhoon cell-keeper placed the stew-filled bladders on the floor, his ugly green head was, for a moment, at the same level as his chained captive. And during that moment, when the green man's head dropped down so low, his ring of clanking cell keys dangled enticingly from his filthy leather harness, practically in John Carter's face!
This change in the routine had gone on for half a dozen time before the Earthman conceived of a plan whereby he might kill the Warhoon, seize his keys and possibly even escape from the dark prison undetected. At the jailer's next arrival, just as the fellow stooped down to deliver the food, he saw his prisoner sprawled on the floor. With open mouth and eyes rolled back, Carter's body was gasping and floundering as in the last paroxysms of death!
The green man hesitated. No doubt long years spent in his occupation had made him wary of any sort of deception. But this was something new -- if he did not act to save the little man it could mean trouble with his superiors. He leaned forward to probe at the spastic prisoner with his smoldering torch, and that was his last act, ere he was united with his fathers. John Carter swung a heavy chain above his head and crashed the links with all his strength down upon the jailer's skull. The fellow slumped to the floor without a sound, stone dead.
Here was a small victory that might lead to freedom! But the mental strain produced by untold nights in that horrid cell had taken its toll upon the Earthman's thoughts. His plans were mixed up inside his brain. The green man had toppled over sideways. His upper body harness was out of sight and perhaps even out of reach of the closely confined Earthman. A long time must have passed before he decided what to do next. And during that lapse the scurrying of other feet in his cell told John Carter that he was not alone with the corpse. Gleaming eyes were coming toward him, reflecting the meager rays that entered through the still open door. Then there was a the slight sound of a body bumping against the wood and the cell door swung shut with a thud -- and a click!
John Carter pulled himself atop the prone body and crawled over the double torso. At the very end of his chains, he was groping with his teeth to remove the keys from the dead Warhoon. Glancing up into the darkness he saw six spots of faint reflection fixed, unbliinking, upon him. Cautiously he backed away, but the evil eyes moved toward him out of the darkness. Moments later he was again at the limits of his chains, against the wall in the corner where he'd made a rude mattress from discarded animal bladders. Backed into that inky corner, he crouched and held his chained hands out into the blackness. Then the faint spots retreated. Their departure was accompanied by a strange grating sound, low in the room, but finally both the eyes and the eerie sound disappeared. Perhaps the unknown creatures had retreated into some distant recess of the cell, or perhaps they found a passage out of the dungeon. No matter, the Earthman continued to crouch in the corner, counting his own heartbeats and waiting.
CHAPTER 72: "OUT OF DARKNESS"
He had not slept in a long time. That much, at least, the Virginian was certain of. But his eyes were fast growing heavy and he would not surrender to slumber without first determining what dangers now awaited him. Having regained his composure (his courage he never lost), John Carter essayed again to attempt to remove the keys from the dead body of his green jailer. But as he reached out into the darkness to locate it, he found to his horror that the corpse was gone. Other than a few still moist animal droppings, the cell floor in front of him was empty! Then the truth flashed upon the long-suffering prisoner; the owners of those gleaming eyes had dragged his prize away, to be devoured in a far corner of the cell, or, more likely in some adjoining space in the walls that he had not yet discovered. They had first entered through the open doorway but in their jostling about the room one of them must have kicked the door, causing it to close again. That is why their eyes had grown so dim after the slam of the ancient planks and the clicking of the lock cut off the light from outside the cell.
His reasoning out an answer to the mystery left John Carter with no feeling of satisfaction. Some carnivorous Martian creatures of considerable size now knew where his cell was. If they had found a way out, they could no doubt return by that same unseen passage. Nothing was better for him; everything was worse! The only advantage the murderous incident left in its wake was the grinding monotony of imprisonment had been temporarily interrupted and that variation in his existence had helped to restore the Earthman's distinctive clarity of thought in tight circumstances.
"I'm not dead," the swordsman laughed dourly -- with the first trace of humor he had expressed for... for God knew how long!
John Carter waited in vain for investigating warriors to come to his cell, seeking the missing jailer and his keys. But nothing at all happened. He slept a dozen times. His hunger first became ravenous, then shrank to a tight little knot of pain in his empty bowels. He began licking the stone walls to capture the slightest seepage of moisture through their thin cracks, but implacable thirst overcame his most ingenious efforts. When his dry throat could suffer the deprivation no longer the Earthman began to cry out for water in a rasping, faltering voice. A green guard at last came to the door, tried the lock and left. But he later returned with a set of keys and not long thereafter the parched mouth of prisoner sucked down the life-giving fluid. Perhaps two or three days later a new jailer appeared and the Earthman's incarceration went on as before.
"It defies comprehension!" he exlaimed to himself. "The one thing the monsters look forward to, besides making war, is their Great Games, whatever they may be. The jeddak himself orders that I be preserved for the spectacle; but none of his subjects cares one whit that my warden has disappeared! And, when at last one of the monsters looks in on me, he asks not a word about where the prison guard has gone off to!"
Or so Captain Carter now recalls his jail cell soliloquy. But the motives of the green men of Barsoom cannot be fathomed by logic. They live in an eternal present where their only thoughts are to satisfy their lusts. Perhaps one in a thousand wonders what will transpire on the morrow. And the saddest part of all is that the civilized denizens of the red planet grow more like the green barbarians with each passing generation. The day is fast approaching when Mars will be nothing but dust and forgotten memories.
Such were the thoughts of the hapless captive. Given enough time in a Warhoon prison, even the roughest son of bloody Ares may turn into a prattling sage.
Then the evil eyed creatures returned.
It happened when he was waking from a particularly nasty dream. The Federals were on the road to Richmond and the city was in flames. With a start Captain Carter opened his eyes and looked for the familiar sliver of light at the bottom of the door. It was not there: blackness reigned supreme in that stony cage. At once it occurred to the prisoner that something was blocking his view. Guessing what that something might be, he flung a fragment of trash into the blackness. A dark shape stirred in the doorway and then moved past the dim glow to some new position, out of sight. In that instant of movement the man of two worlds caught a glimpse of a hairy body and numerous legs. There was no doubt about it, the intruder was one of the great six-legged rats of Barsoom!
He saw its eyes now -- tiny sparks in the midnight shadows. Two other sets of eyes appeared in the distance. There was a squeal and the sound of claws upon the stone floor. Then nothing.
John Carter pondered his situation. The sharp-toothed things he identified as rats are much larger and far more dangerous than their equivalents on the blue planet. These vile creatures will attack a calot, or even a banth, if hunger demands the gamble. Angry mothers eat their own young. A starving Martian rat will gnaw off its own tail, and a leg or two for the meager sustenance, and then it will dash around for the remainder of its life on four -- or even three -- limbs, just as agile as ever. They only occasionally attack adult human beings, most observers will agree. That is, only occasionally, unless one or the other is cornered.
Chained down as he was, he could not hope to escape them. Sooner or later, the rats would overtake him in his sleep. And then -- And then what? Before his could complete this line of thought another set of unblinking eyes appeared between him and the door. Half sickened with the horror of his situation, the captive instantly decided to throw himself upon the shadow. Unchained, the Earthman's alien muscles and practiced agility would have soon prevailed. But, of course, that was not the case. Captain Carter had misjudged the thing's size, however. It weighed as much as he did and carried in its mouth three sets of razor-sharp teeth. Two legs sought for traction on the rough ersite floor, while the other four struggled for freedom or slashed out at the attacker with wicked long claws. I was impossible for John Carter to subdue the rat, chained down and limited in his movements as he was. The stinking creature, squealing and biting, quickly squirmed free.
The new jailer came to the Earthman's cell less frequently than had his predecessor. When he did appear, more often than not he shoved Carter's food through the half-opened door, without bothering to set a foot beyond the threshold. There would be no second murder in that dungeon, unless the prey happened to be the pale outlander and the predator a famished, six-limbed rodent.
His situation had become hopeless!
CHAPTER 73: "EPILOGUE"
A noise outside his cell door surprised John Carter. He was still picking stringy thoat meat from his teeth when the lock began to turn. Surely the Warhoon was not bringing him dessert! No --it was another prisoner -- brought in and chained next to Captain Carter by a two listless giants, one of whom shone the bright beam of a radium torch about the room. In a flash the Earthman saw at last that the place of his confinement was a spacious chamber, the walls of which were set with a many steel rings holding heavy chains.
But what interested Carter most was the new arrival. Before the guards again closed the door, he saw that it was a red Martian warrior, still clad in the shredded scraps of a harness bearing the metal of Helium's twin markings.
After the giants had departed, John Carter called out the Martian word of greeting, "Kaor." And then "Be careful of the rats; their teeth are sharp."
"Who are you who speaks in green men's accent, out of the darkness?" he answered
"John Carter, a friend of the red men of Helium."
"I am of Helium," he said, "but I do not recall our having such a friend."
Captain Carter related as much of his adventure as the red man cared to listen to, omitting only references to his dream experiences with Helium's princess on the Plateau of Eo, and his romantic feelings for the royal maiden.
The new arrival took in the Earthman's tale with little comment, as though Jasoomian visitors came and went on a daily basis. He was rather more excited by the news of Helium's princess and her likely escape from the headhunters. He had been a member of the ill-fated expedition which had fallen into the hands of the Tharks at the time of Dejah Thoris' capture and he worried much over her fate.
His name was Kantos Kan, and he was a padwar in the navy of Helium. He said that the few escapees of the disaster near Korad had limped back toward Helium in barely functional vessels. Then, while passing near the city of Zodanga, they were attacked by the warships of Helium's hereditary enemies. Only Kantos Kan's flyer eluded their Zodangan pursuers and it reached Helium with less than a dozen passengers. Immediately the Jeddak dispatched numerous armed craft in what proved to be a futile search for the missing princess. Much bloody fighting ensued thereafter but no trace of Dejah Thoris was ever found. His own one-man flier was sent to conduct a search about Warhoon, but he suffered the misfortunes of detection and capture, and now he was sentenced to die in the Great Games.
Those who know the story of Captain Carter's adventures on Mars will recall how Kantos Kan [[and he = he and]] formed a warm personal friendship and how they escaped Warhoon during the Great Games. Both men went on to perform many notable exploits, not the least of which was carried out by Captain Carter at the time of the Atmosphere Plant crisis some years later.
The restoration of Princess Dejah Thoris to Helium and her subsequent marriage to the Earthman are episodes too well known to require retelling here.
And so, dear Jane, I close my letter with this page. It has grown in size beyond all my intentions and I apologize for inserting so much romantic detail. It is not a proper history in any sense and I am almost certain you will need to shorten my longwinded ramblings before you share the story with the people of your planet.
Prior to the beginning of our transmission to you, I once again imposed upon Her Majesty, at the palace in Greater Helium, for her permission to give this account to the readers of two worlds. She replied that she had little hope for its publication on Barsoom, where fiction is seldom read and royal biographies are only put into circulation during centennial remembrance ceremonies. But on Jasoom all things seem to be possible and Her Majesty wonders whether the adventures of her youth might not one day be featured on what you call the "Silver Screen," along with those of Mr. Gable and Miss Garbo!
You see -- those of us who have husbands from your world know more of it than just its geography. And thanks to your father-in-law's tireless efforts, I think that the inhabitants of the blue planet may know some things about our husbands that [[even]] Her Majesty Dejah Thoris and her humble servant here in Duhor have yet to learn!
Captain Paxton and Captain Carter send their kaors and warmest greetings. And the latter bids me say "Next year in Lanikai." -- whatever that might signify.
Sincerely, Valla Dia
Duhor, Sept. 1, 1940
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