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Volume 1624
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A PRINCESS OF JASOOM
by
Jeff Long
.

Chapter Twelve: Bal Zak ~ words by Jeff, art by David 

The loyal three expertly defended themselves. They did more than that -- carrying out the duty for which they had trained since childhood: To protect the life of Helium's Jeddak. It was a duty any subject of the Empire would gladly shoulder. Few, however, could do it so well as the Jeddak's Guard.

But the traitors had also been superbly trained -- by the same warlords as the three who were loyal. The display of swordsmanship that ensued would have drawn cheers from the throats of thousands, had thousands been there to witness it.

Love and loyalty might have been enough to bring victory to the Jeddak's faithful guards. But they had more than that -- there were Shis-Inday, Bal Zak and myself.

Two traitors were quickly dispatched; the third escaped through a hidden panel that none of us could re-open once it slammed shut behind him.

"Knife and awl!" cursed Shis-Inday, hurling her great strength against the immobile door.

"He'll make his way to Hora San," I said. "We're no longer safe here. If ever we were."

"We must know their plans!" insisted Moros Tar. "By the knee of Issus, I'll not sacrifice Helium because of some disparity in numbers."

"Disparity in numbers!" cried Bal Zak. "You men of Helium have a strange mathematics. It is four against a city!"

The Toonolian suggested we steal a flier, adjusting the mechanism in a way he knew that would improve the sluggish Phundahlian craft. We could return with reinforcements in a matter of days.

Neither Moros Tar nor I favored that plan, for who could know whether days were available to spare? But Shis-Inday counseled that there was wisdom in it.

Reluctantly, the Jeddak and his son were persuaded -- by two outsiders -- the best way to protect the Empire.


Bal Zak proved to be a wizard with machinery. He tuned the hulk of a Phundahlian flier we selected so that it hummed with the efficiency of the sleekest ship of the Heliumetic fleet. Not long after we'd been aloft, Moros Tar offered him a post in our Navy.

"No," the Tonoolian answered. "Ras Thavas may be an eccentric master, but I've served him my entire life. I suspect that I always will."

"Such loyalty makes you even more valuable," said the Jeddak. He was thinking, no doubt, of the three who'd betrayed him.

Moros Tar spoke no more of it, however. To those with honor, a Barsoomian's oath is more sacred than his life. And the number of those with honor is greater by millions than those without it.

That Bal Zak had thrown his sword at the feet of a mad scientist made the act no less significant. Any fealty to Xax and Hora San, by extension, had been broken by Bal Zak's sentence of death.

Shis-Inday leaned far over the side of our speeding craft, marveling at the new sensation of flight.

"The spirit of Black Wind must be a powerful ally among your people," she said. "He carries you upon his shoulders!"

"It's no ghost that lifts us," muttered Bal Zak. "Though I'll wager the Phundahlians who built this crate have long since gone to meet their ancestors."

"How long till we reach your camp?" Shis-Inday asked.

I'd never heard Helium referred to as a "camp," with all her millions. Smiling, I was about to answer, when the princess disappeared.

"Hair of Issus!" shouted Moros Tar, leaping to his feet. "She fell!"

Bal Zak, who manned the controls, needed no command from either the Jeddak or myself to plunge our ship in a mad descent toward the surface of Barsoom.

But we three knew it was a meaningless gesture. The Jasoomian girl's life upon our planet had ended as anonymously as it began. I felt sorrow and loss well within me, and I grieved for this unknown savage from another world. I sank to my knees, stunned by the loss.

I'd seen countless other lives senselessly snuffed out -- including my own brother and mother. Why did this girl's death affect me so profoundly? I barely knew her.

The answer came with the words I spoke after a faint cry for help rose from below our ship.

"Hold, my princess!" I shouted, staring over the gunwale at the dangling form of Shis-Inday. She clutched in one hand a rope that trailed in the wind, straining with with her great Jasoomian strength against the gravity that sought to drag her downward.

With Shis-Inday hanging by so slender a tether to life, I did not have time to think about the import of those words: "My princess."

I leapt to the rail, fastening a grappling hook to it, and began the perilous descent to Shis-Inday's side. Before I reached her, our craft was near enough the ground that she could drop lightly to the spongy floor of the Great Tonoolian Marsh.

I joined her, crushing her to me in an embrace that was more like that of a father than lover -- proper, for two who were not betrothed. She nestled contentedly.

"Raven nearly caught me," she said, as defiant as she'd been before Tur. "But Usen prevented it. Perhaps another day Old Man Death will win. But not this day."

Despite the brave words, I felt her tremble.

Then she stiffened, and a low growl of warning escaped her lips. Her dagger flashed from its sheath.

Hundreds of the Gooli lunatics surrounded us.

Perhaps it was Raven's day after all.


With drawn swords, Moros Tar and I kept Shis-Inday between us, circling slowly and menacing as best we could the lunatics that crept closer. Some carried rocks. Others had sharpened sticks. Their numbers alone were enough to overwhelm us.

Shis-Inday was annoyed by the positions my father and I had taken on either side of her. Though we'd both seen her fight, and thus knew her to be entirely capable, it was difficult to undue a lifetime of protective instinct toward the fairer sex.

Bal Zak had been tinkering with the controls of the flier when the lunatics appeared. That he was unaware of their presence seemed evident by the loud curses coming from his direction.

"Foul workmanship!" he shouted over the side, amidst clanking metal. "Twisted drive shaft! The ship was unequal to the dive."

The lunatics were readying themselves for a mad charge when Bal Zak stuck his head up over the gunwale. The effect was electric.

"Ho!" cried the padwar of Ras Thavas. "Back, you unwashed pouch-breeders!"

They obeyed.

"You just have to hit 'em with the right voice," Bal Zak called to us. "The mastermind can do it in his sleep. I'm not bad at it, though."

For added emphasis, he pulled on the booming air-horn of the flier. The squeal sent our would-be attackers scurrying.

"Marsupials -- can you believe it?" Bal Zak said, climbing to the ground. "Why Ras Thavas wanted to breed human marsupials, I'll never know. The idea itself is as insane as they are. But if he's not cross-breeding species, he's growing a new one in some reeking vat. Or hacking out a brain and...doing things to it. That one is never content with Nature's plan."


"I'm a fool, to have forgotten the wireless," said Bal Zak, as we made our way toward the village. "No need to go to Helium, when we can as easily dispatch a message through the ether."
Moros Tar looked at Shis-Inday.

"Your fall saved us a long journey," he said.

"Nevertheless," she answered, "I, too, feel like a fool."

We forced the door to the locked shed in Gooli where Ras Thavas kept his wireless. Soon, instructions had been delivered for a fleet of warships to meet us. The jedwar we contacted seemed confused, but as both Moros Tar and myself provided our personal codes, he obeyed without question.

Later, Shis-Inday and I scouted the forest around Gooli. I worried that we'd been followed from Phundahl, and wanted to assure myself otherwise.

We paddled across the lake, from the island of Ompt to the mainland. Over the course of millenia, the Great Toonolian Marsh had alternated between watery swamp and jungle-like forest. During the time of which I speak, the waters had receded to a few scattered lakes and small creeks, seeping into the ground to permit the nearly riotous growth that surrounded Shis-Inday and me.

I marveled at the girl's woodcraft. She saw signs in the tangled vegetation that were invisible to me. None of them hinted at pursuit, she told me.

Feeling confident that we were secure, I was about to turn back to camp when Shis-Inday laid a hand upon my shoulder. Without words, she nodded toward the open sea bottom that lay beyond the edge of the Great Marsh.

"Green men," I said, cursing. "Thousands of them." Two great hordes were converging upon us -- no doubt from Thark and Warhoon.

Possibly they hunted Shis-Inday. Or it might have been a continuation of the war that began with the destruction of Thark hatchlings at the incubator.

Whatever the cause, it heralded no good for us.

Then, over the rim of the horizon, a monumental battle fleet appreared. I knew that it could not be from Helium, as sufficient time hadn't yet passed for the arrival of Moros Tar's Navy. When the flagship approached close enough for me to make out its lines, I recognized the design of Ptarthian craftsmen.

Shis-Inday pointed in the opposite direction. Another fleet was massing on that horizon.

Whatever scheme had been hatched by Hora San, it now seemed ready to play out. The opposing fleet was from Phundahl.

Would the two meet in battle?

Or were they joining forces, as allies?


Chapter Thirteen: The Angry Dance 

Both fleets opened fire, but not upon each other. They bombarded the swarming green men. Several shots flew wide of their marks, exploding not far from where Shis-Inday and I stood.

It occurred to me that so great an armada could not have been assembled merely to wage war against the green men.

No, it must be that the fleets had come unexpectedly upon the savages. Before moving on to whatever their real purpose might be, they had decided to decimate the hordes. The huge Thark and Warhoon rifles turned from each other and focused upon the common foe -- not without effect. More than one ship's red captain plunged from the bow of his command as it hung, burning, in the sky.

Shis-Inday and I retraced our way to Gooli, the thunderous belch of rifle and canon echoing all about the sea bottom. Bal Zak, Moros Tar and the Jeddak's Guard had heard the explosions. When we reached the village, they gathered to hear my report.

"Perhaps the green men will gain us time," said Moros Tar. "A diversion, until our forces arrive."

"Unlikely allies," commented a Guard. "But they should keep the enemy fleets busy for a while."

"They're after our treasure," said one of the lunatics, as somberly as he'd once measured the circumference of my head.

"Treasure?" said Moros Tar, raising an eyebrow in a way that suggested he thought it possible, however doubtful.

"I think not," I commented, telling him of the chest of sea shells the Goolis had shown me earlier in the day. Then, so as not to offend our hosts, I added, "Your treasure is too large for a foe to easily carry away."

"That is true," the lunatic noted. He wandered off to huddle with others of his kind.

Shis-Inday, I noticed, had left our group to enter the forest. I called for her to return, but she waved me off as if upon some errand that could not wait.

Shrugging, I continued to discuss plans with the others -- keeping an eye on the spot where the girl had gone into the underbrush. She returned some time later, burdened with stout poles that had been carved from trees, as well as various other items. A band of the Gooli lunatics followed her. Whooping and shouting, they dragged several dead banths behind them.

Shis-Inday set about skinning a banth, while the lunatics leaped and shouted all around her. My curiosity at its breaking point, I went over to see what she was doing.

"The female is a great hunter!" cried the lunatic who had once planned to behead me.

"A mighty fighter!" yelled another, unable to contain his excitement over Shis-Inday's accomplishment.

Shis-Inday motioned for the lunatics to gather 'round, including me and the others of our party in the gesture.

"We need weapons, if we are to survive this battle," she said, drawing forth a length of banth-gut "Rocks and branches alone will not help you, if the Green Ones attack."


She called it "The Angry Dance."
Four warriors, Shis-Inday among them, approached a great fire from the east -- an important Direction, one with Power, according to the Be-don-ko-he princess.

She chanted:

"I am calling upon Sky and Earth.
"Bats will fly, and turn upside down with me in battle.
"Black Sky will enfold my body and give me protection,
"And Earth will do this also."

Shis-Inday was painted in the most auspicious manner. Many of the lunatics were similarly stained. Splashes of white speckled their faces, with a single stripe of red clay across the bridge of the nose.

I allowed the sacred symbols to adorn my face, though Moros Tar, Bal Zak and the Jeddak's Guard would not. Soon, however, my fellow red men had become intoxicated by the revelry led by my savage princess. A brew she called tizwin helped intoxicate them, too.

"Right here in the middle of this place
"I am becoming Mirage.
"Let them not see me,
"For I am of the Sun."

From the decorated pouch that Shis-Inday wore at her hip, she flung bits of pollen into the air and into the fire, chanting in her native, alluring tongue. Black feathers from some unknown species of bird that inhabited the Great Marsh hung from her leather loincloth.

Amulets -- tzi-daltai, she called them -- decorated her limbs. They were made from the treasure shells of Gooli. Shis-Inday said they contained much Power.

For each of us, she'd also made an izze-kloth, or medicine cord: a loosely braided sash of two banth-hide strands, twisted about each other. We wore them draped across our bodies, from right shoulder to left side.

"Be good, O, winds," she prayed. "Be good, O, ittindi! Make strong the medicine of Shis-Inday, that it may protect her and these warriors from their enemies!"

The weapons seemed primitive, yet effective. Bows were strung with banth-gut; arrows were tipped with carefully sharpened stones. Not since the legendary Bowmen of Lothar had such weapons been used in Barsoomian combat. Lances, stone knives, war clubs and slings completed the accouterments with which Shis-Inday fitted the lunatics.

I, of course, retained my long- and short-swords -- the weapons with which I had always been most proficient. Bal Zak packed a monstrous radium pistol, which he'd found in the disabled flier's cabin.

It was a night of sweaty, barbaric dancing beneath the watchful eyes of Klego-na-ay's crazy cousins. I should have felt exhaustion when red streaked the morning sky; but it was with exhilaration that I greeted the dawn.

Shis-Inday proclaimed us ready for whatever might come. "Usen watches, and smiles," she said. "Kliji-Litzogue says that our victory will be difficult. And magnificent."

I prayed to Issus for the Yellow Lizard's confidence.

My god did not answer. But my princess did.

As the mad dance continued all about us, I took the girl in my arms and kissed her upon the lips.


Most commanders in Helium's Navy will tell you that it is nearly impossible to remain aloft and conquer a green horde. Their rifles are too precise, while their ability to find cover in places that seem outwardly naked is remarkable. Shelling is virtually ineffective, while losses to an airborne fleet can be catastrophic.
The commanders under Hora San quickly discovered this to be true. Ground fighting began in earnest shortly after the aerial warfare proved untenable. I would later learn that the High Priest's goal was nothing less than the conquest of all Barsoom. Although it seemed foolhardy to me at the time, this test of mettle against two hordes fit perfectly into Hora San's mad scheme.

Defeat a green horde upon the ground, and almost any force that a red nation can muster will fall before you. Defeat two, and you have proved your worth tenfold.

So, then, it was four armies that swarmed closer and closer to the position held by our relatively tiny and ill-equipped band. Warhoon and Thark seemed to fight as much amongst themselves as against the red armies led by Phundahlian and Ptarthian jedwars.

Even the civilized warriors, though, seemed ill at ease fighting shoulder to shoulder. Hora San had united them, under some ruse that had cost Ptarth its rightful Jeddak -- Thuvan Dihn's father. But the alliance was far from stable.

As the battle progressed, our small "army" waited under a cover that Shis-Inday had devised. Scattered to the four winds, we buried ourselves beneath the moss-like sea bottom. Only our eyes remained visible -- but even those could disappear, should a foe get too close.

A hooting that Shis-Inday said was the cry of Owl was our signal to attack. When it came, the great mass of fighting men was virtually on top of us. We emerged in the thick of battle, taking no quarter.

We were hopelessly outnumbered, but the suprise proved valuable. The red men were unnerved by our seemingly miraculous appearance and strange weapons. Hesitation cost them many lives.

Shis-Inday brandished a war club, her leaps even greater than those I'd seen her use to such terrifying purpose in the pits of Phundahl, which had been cramped and dimly lighted. Here, upon the broad plain, she jumped thirty and thirty-five feet at a time, delivering blows with a savage cry that was quite effective. Arrows feathered the breasts of her opponents, when she found opportunity to loose them -- often from above.

Moros Tar, Bal Zak, the Jeddak's Guard and I all gave splendid accounts of ourselves, though in more traditional fashion. A dozen times I found myself cornered by pressing antagonists, but always did I maneuver with the skill taught by my father and brother, emerging victorious at every turn.

The Toonolian's pistol fired at those whose own weapon of choice was similar, seldom missing its mark. That Bal Zak never shot at a swordsman proved that he is a man of honor.

Moros Tar had always been grim in battle. But this day he'd taken up the war cry of Shis-Inday, equaling the girl's whoops with a passion that nearly cost me my life, as I paused to watch his grinning abandon.

Some say the men of Gooli are cowards. That may be true. But they fought with us that day like no cowards I've ever seen. With less agility, but still to great heights, the powerfully legged marsupials also leaped and fought in a manner that confounded the enemy's best defense. As much to them as ourselves goes the credit for victory. When Shis-Inday had reverently told them of the mystical Power contained within their treasured shells, they became imbued with a confidence that made them unstoppable.

There was method to our attack, even if it seemed haphazard to our foes. We fought only against the warriors of Phundahl -- defending ourselves against green men when they attacked us, which was often, but not carrying the offensive toward them.

Bar Comas, Jeddak of Warhoon, savagely pressed me. I left him frightfully scarred -- but did not kill him. There was strange thrill in such sport. Later, Shis-Inday told me that among The Men of the Woods, it is often enough to display superior skill over an enemy. A tap on the shoulder, or a blow to the chest, is as significant to them as the fatal thrust of spear or hatchet.

The Ptarthian forces we also left unmolested -- a difficult thing for Moros Tar and myself, who had lost many loved ones and friends in our long war with that nation.

Our intent was to divide the red armies against each other. Slowly, just that began to happen. More than one Ptarthian recognized myself or Moros Tar. That we failed to attack them obviously planted seeds of doubt about their cause.

During a lull in the fighting, I whispered to some that Thuvan Dihn might still live; that I had been with him not many days since -- long after all Ptarth thought him dead.

When the battle resumed, I heard shouts from several points across the field:

"For the prince!"

"For Thuvan Dihn! True Jeddak of Ptarth!"

By the end of that first day, the alliances had shifted. The Jeddak of Helium and his son, with their savage allies, fought on the side of Ptarth against Hora San's blaspheming followers.

I took up another cry -- "For Issus!" -- and it echoed in my ears from all directions.

The green men we could never turn, nor did we attempt to. But the separate hordes were too busy fighting each other -- and Phundahl, and Ptarth, and our Gooli lunatics -- to make any real progress. In a way, I felt sorry for the green jeds who attempted to coordinate the battle, which was as strange as any that Barsoom had ever seen, with all the leaping and whooping and general chaos amongst allies.

It was about to grow stranger.

As I sliced at a foe, a familiar buzz rang in my ears. Turning, I saw a swarm of siths hovering over half the field. And with them were the strange fliers that had routed them on that other occasion.

But now the fliers did not attack the monsters. Instead, they seemed to be herding them toward the battle. Siths picked off red Phundahlian and green Thark or Warhoon, never touching the forces of Ptarth -- thanks to the precise maneuvering of our armor-clad and as-yet anonymous allies.

My own hesitation nearly cost me dearly. As I watched the siths in amazement, a Phundahlian sword plunged toward my breast. A flash of green darted past me, attaching itself to the breast of my enemy.

The Killer had returned.

The hatchling ripped wide the man's throat, not pausing to acknowledge me before he was off upon another frenzied attack.

The green hordes had had enough. They withdrew from the field in opposite directions, melting into the dead sea bottoms from which they had come.

The Killer chased after the retreating Tharks, having repaid his debt to me. I would not see him again for many years. When I did, the debt I owed would be greater than a Jeddak's ransom. But that is a story you have already been told.


"The Iss is near," said Moros Tar, as we sat eating the meager fare that is the staple in any camp of soldiers.
Thuvan Dihn and a stranger had joined us.

"Moros Tar and Tardos Mors of Helium," said the Prince of Ptarth, "I present Jeddak Kulan Tith, of Kaol."

"The River of Mystery runs through my kingdom, Moros Tar," said Kulan Tith. "But her waters are strangely low, for this time of year. It's a condition that baffles the scholars of my court."

"I would like to see it," said Moros Tar. The tiredness in his voice had returned, now that the battle seemed to be won.

I knew, sadly, that my father wanted more than to see the Iss. He wished to voyage upon her sacred waters, however diminished they might be.


The Phundahlians had retreated to a safe distance. We could see their fires, and the lights from their grounded ships. They seemed to be waiting for something.

They dared not attack us now. The men of Ptarth and Kaol and Gooli had been joined by the fleet from Helium, which arrived with two hundred thousand soldiers upon five hundred ships. Although we could have used them a day earlier, the fleet made good time across the face of Barsoom. I could not fault her jedwar, Ross Billen. He'd done his best to bring succor at all possible speed.

As we plotted the siege of Phundahl and the capture of Hora San, a noise came to our ears that was unlike any I'd ever heard before: the grinding of gears, or the gnashing of teeth; mechanical, gigantic -- ominous in the extreme.

Thuria and Cluros bathed the nighttime sea bottom in flickering shadows. I joined Shis-Inday, who stood watch because of her keen eyes. Bal Zak followed groggily. We strained to see what it was that lumbered across the ochre moss.

"A mountain approaches," said the girl, shaking her head at the impossible notion.

I could now make out the monstrous shape. It blotted out the stars as it rolled toward us on gargantuan treads.

"Consort of Issus!" I breathed.

My astonished lethargy lasted only a moment. I rushed to sound the alarm. Soon, the entire camp was alert and ready for battle.

But what kind of thing was it we faced?

Bal Zak knew the answer.

"As I told you, Hora San assembled scientists from around the globe," he explained. "One of them was Fal Sivas, a whisp of a man from Zodanga. Another was Solan, of a race I never dreamed existed. Ras Thavas did not care much for either, or their theories."

"Theories be damned!" cried Thuvan Dihn. "Out with it, man! What is it?"

The sound grew louder, overpowering in its weighty roar. I felt heavier by a stone, just listening to its approach.

"The Juggernaut," said Bal Zak, his voice trembling. "In fact, I helped somewhat with the gearing. It's a mechanized war machine. Shis-Inday's assessment is nearly true. It's the size of a small mountain, and armed to the teeth. I never thought Fal Sivas would get it operational, though. None of us did, or we'd have torn him to pieces before the job was complete."

When the thing struck our camp, I knew pure terror for the first and only time in a long and war-filled life.


Chapter Fourteen: The Juggernaut 

Bal Zak had gone insane.

The Toonlian tore off his harness, and pitched all of his weapons in the direction of the approaching behemoth.

I was about to suggest that he be taken to a medical transport, when a tremendous wrenching of wood and steal erupted behind us. I turned in time to see the Thoris, a ten-thousand man warship named for my great grandsire, ripped from its moorings. It tumbled end over end in the direction of the Juggernaut, the outlines of which were becoming visible in the glow of dawn.

The mighty ship of Helium crashed into the Juggernaut's side and hung there, a heap of wreckage and men too horrible to comprehend.

"The magnet!" cried Bal Zak, his voice small before the roar of the machine. "It will draw any steel to it!"

I quickly grasped the Toonolian's meaning as more ships, large and small, were pulled irresistibly forward. Men, too, had begun to be dragged through space by their swords, grappling hooks and other metal objects attached to their bodies. I saw them crushed against the titanic bulk of the Juggernaut.

Divesting myself of all steel, I clutched at a Ptarthian warrior who'd not been quick enough to follow Bal Zak's example. Hovan Du slipped through my grasp and was lost in a whirlwind of hurtling debris.

The Juggernaut plowed forward at a maddeningly slow pace -- a swift man could run faster. It towered far above us, ten- thousand feet tall, a shapeless bulk that was quickly becoming buried in the warships of Helium and Ptarth.

Yet it still moved.

Pedantic.

Lumbering.

Deadly beyond belief.

The green men had retreated. It was our turn to do likewise. There is no shame in it, for to live another day is to fight another day.

We ran for the Great Marsh.

Slowly, the Juggernaut turned to follow -- now firing upon the fleeing red men before it. Shells burst all about us as the sun rose to detonate them. Circular blades, razor sharp, shot forth from canons in the monstrosity's hull, mowing down men in a bloody slaughter that could not rightly be called war.

After the blades traveled as far as the force that expelled them could push, they were caught up in the magnetic force and returned to the Juggernaut -- to be belched forth again. And again. And again.

"Will it get mired in the bogs of the marsh?" I called to Bal Zak.

"Nothing will slow it, or turn it from its path," the Toonolian answered. His face was nearly as white as Hora San's.

Incredibly, Kaolian fliers were whizzing past we men of Helium and Ptarth. Sometimes, they paused long enough to pick up passengers. But the machines were strained to carry more than two riders.

Kulan Tith paused his machine at my side.

"No metal parts," he cried. "The rubber trees of Kaol are unusually versatile. And so are my draftsmen. Come! I've already carried thy father to safety."

I looked for Shis-Inday, but did not see her. Able to run faster by far than any man on that field of death, she was likely safe. But not knowing for certain her fate worried me.

I was about to clamber to Kulan Tith's side, when a thought struck me.

"Is there a way inside?" I asked Bal Zak, gesturing at the Juggernaut.

The Toonolian pondered that a moment.

"Quickly!" I hissed.

"Yes," he said. "I can get you inside."

"Kulan Tith," I said. "My kingdom for your flier."

"If you are successful, the gratitude of my own kingdom shall be yours, Tardos Mors," the Jeddak returned.


Bal Zak guided us to a hatch in the the Juggernaut's expansive roof. He crouched there, atop the moving mountain of steel, as I slipped through to the interior and made my way to the engine room, following the Toonloian's directions as best I could.

I expected resistance -- such a vehicle could carry thousands of men.

But I found no one.

A voice rang in my ears, however, carried by speakers that were situated all about the Juggernaut.

"My ship is impregnable, Prince of Helium," said the voice. "Think you to disable it? I saw your approach, and allowed you to enter."

Hora San.

But where did he hide?

I knew the answer before the question had been fully formed in my mind: The High Priest was in Phundahl. The ship was remotely controlled; the voice I heard carried by radio wave. Photostatic devices probably recorded my every move, within and without the ship.

"You are killing Barsoom," said Hora San.

"How do you, who plan genocide with this obscenity, figure that?" I muttered, continuing in the direction that Bal Zak had plotted for me.

"Because you are trying to stop me from saving her," said Hora San.

I ignored him.

"Matai Shang did not listen to reason, either. Perhaps you, a red man of some limited resourcefulness, will understand the logic of our situation."

Logic? From a mad man?

I'd found the room where the great engines that powered the Juggernaut were housed. But every instrument, every control panel, every device that appeared to have any import at all was encased in a seamless alloy that I could not open or smash. I was powerless to do ought but listen to the ravings of Hora San.

"The Great Toonolian Marsh is shriveling away," he said. "Perhaps not in your eyes, accustomed as they are to less fertile portions of Barsoom. But it disappears more rapidly than you can imagine. The River Iss recedes into herself more and more each year. The Valley Dor, of which you know nothing -- nothing! -- is parched. Omean, of which even Matai Shang is ignorant, is a shallow pool. The northern ice caps are melting. In time, the rot of the Carrion Caves will wash down upon the burnt hulk of a dead planet. But even that mositure will quickly disappear into the dry dust of our forgotten world."

He was indeed mad.

"Only I can save her," said the white priest of Tur. "Only I can foresee her doom. If it means wiping out nine-tenths of Barsoom's population to provide for the rest, by Issus, that's what I'll do!"

"`By Issus?'" I repeated. "A strange oath, coming from one who quotes the scripture of Tur so eloquently."

"If you knew her, you'd swear in that old hag's name as well," said the High Priest. "Tur is smoke and mirrors, nothing more. I quote the Turgan so well because I wrote it. But Issus lives -- to the everlasting horror of us all."

He cackled, nearly choking on his insanity.

Nearly mad myself with rage and frustration, I spun looking for some tool to use.

Nothing.

I slid to my knees, pounding the polished floor with clenched fists. A panel opened in front of me and a viewscreen appeared. It displayed the path that lay in front of the Juggernaut. I watched as more ships of my beloved Navy were drawn toward the irresistible magnet. Some, who still had crews aboard them, fired shots that apparently had no effect. Deep within the bowels of the massive ship, I could not even feel their impact.

"I'll conquer Barsoom," said Hora San, when he'd regained some germ of coherent thought. "And then Dor. After that, I'll rid our planet of that diseased tyrant, Issus, and take her place upon the Throne of Eternal Life!"

A hissing sound was my first warning of the gas. It seeped into the engine room, and I lost consciousness.


When I woke, I was inside the statue of Tur, bound to a chair on the top platform. I could tell from the configuration that I sat inside the hollow head of Phundahl's hollow god.

Hora San stood beside me, gazing through an eyepiece. When he saw that I was conscious, he bid me lean forward and look into the great hall.

Shis-Inday stood in the place where we'd both been before, chained in the manner as that other time.

And, as that other time, she stared defiantly into the face of the malevolent god. Also as before, the temple was filled with a jeering crowd, who heaped foul curses and vile epitaths at my princess.

Hora San put a mouthpiece to his lips, and spoke in a voice that was amplified throughout the temple.

"Witness the death of a blasphemer!" he cried. "Witness the fate any who defies Tur!"

A tremendous explosion rocked the entire building. I could tell from Hora San's expression that it was not the fate he planned. Another explosion. And another.

I knew from the first that shells were falling upon Phundahl. Besides the detonations near the temple, which brought great stones from its walls crashing to the floor, I could hear others in the distance. The entire city was under attack!

But the fire seemed concentrated upon the temple, and the place shook so much that I expected the walls to cave inward momentarily.

Apparently, the assembled crowd felt likewise. I could hear their terrified screams as they rushed for the doors.

"Hold!" Hora San shouted into the mouthpiece. "Tur will destroy those who defile his sacred places! And he will destroy those of his people who flee from him!"

Although I could not see what was happening, it was clear from the High Priest's expression that his subjects were too terrified by the current onslaught to worry about one that was threatened. They continued to flee, as the bombs continued to fall.

One of those bombs must have fallen directly on the roof, for the balst seemed nearly to topple the statue-god. I felt us sway horribly to the left, as I ground my feet into the platform to retain my balance. We rocked back to the right, and then bobbled and back and forth.

Hora San lost his precarious balance, and tumbled five stories to the stone floor below. I looked over the edge of the platform, and saw him lying motionless, a red pool encircling his crumpled and twisted form.

"The death of a blasphemer," I said.

Shis-Inday remained chained to the dais, staring up at the statue. It's not every day one sees a god nearly fall on his side. But she was the only one to see it, for the temple was empty.

"Quite a sight, eh, my princess?" I said through the mouthpiece.

Her eyes went wide.

"I have the feeling your Usen never wobbles," I added.

"Tardos Mors?"

"None other. Now, how the devil do we get out of these chains again?"


Thuvan Dihn loosed the chains.

As the Juggernaut crawled back toward Phundahl, with me captive aboard her, the men of Helium, Ptarth and Kaol had regrouped. It took three days for repairs and plans to be made, and then the assault was carried out. I'd witnessed, from my limited vantage point, the first wave. At the behest of Moros Tar, Thuvan Dihn came in search of me and Shis-Inday.

"And the Juggernaut?" I asked the Prince of Ptarth, as he cut the chains from my wrists with his sword.

"Inert, standing before the gates of Phundahl," he replied. "The magnetic force is deactivated. Our ships are unaffected. But, teeth of Issus! It's an ominous sight."

Shis-Inday and Thuvan Dihn stood with me upon the upper platform inside Tur.

"Is that this Hora San I've been hearing so much about from thy sire?" asked the Prince, pointing at the corpse below.

"It was," I said.

More bombs began to fall, shattering the silence of the temple.

The sensitive device that transmitted every sound within the Great Hall of Tur told us that someone had entered through the door at the opposite end. We heard the approach of faltering footsteps, shaken by the unremitting fusillade from above.

Through the eyepiece, I saw that it was Xaxa. She was alone.

I was tempted to speak in the voice of Tur, but something in her hesitant approach kept me from it. I watched, curious. For a long moment, she stared up at the face of the statue. Her gaze seemed to bore into my own hidden eyes.

"Speak, Tur!" the woman cried, her voice on the verge of breaking. "Your people and your Jeddara are afraid. We need the guidance of Tur's wisdom."

Silence.

Dashing to the foot of the immobile statue, Xaxa pounded upon its base with tiny hands. I strained forward, trying to see through the eyepiece the scene taking place directly below. Xaxa's heaving sobs echoed across the cavernous chamber. Stony idols, hanging from the walls and half-hidden by clouds of incense, looked upon the pathetic figure with indifference.

"Speak!" she begged the living god. "O, Tur, what shall we do?"

Xaxa collapsed upon the floor, kicking and thrashing at first. But then her struggles slowed. Finally, they stopped. She lay very still. But the piercing wail of a lost soul continued.

We departed the statue without another thought for the Jeddara of Phundahl and her silent deity.


Chapter Fifteen: On the Banks of the Iss 

Bal Zak found Ras Thavas in the pits, cursing every Phundahlian back to the Tree of Life. It seems the Toonolian scientist had fallen from Tur's favor.

"And those two fakes, Fal Sivas and Solan, were given free reign over The Project!" Ras Thavas cried. "War machines indeed! Nothing but sentimentalist drivel! The only answer is a superior breed of human, resistant to drought and the other vagaries of Barsoom's fragile ecosystem. Why, given time, I could make it so even air is unecessary. Then our race would not be so dependent upon that ancient atmosphere plant."

"So the drought is real?" I asked. "It's coming?"

"Where have you been, Prince of Helium?" he shot back, using my title in a tone that made it seem small. "Does it take no brains at all to become a royal? It has been upon us for millennia. Barsoom has been spiraling toward death for ages. You do realize that the dead sea bottoms were not always dead? They once had oceans on top of them. Of course the drought is coming. It's here."

"But when will it finally claim us?" I persisted. "The death from which there is no resurrection?"

Ras Thavas shrugged off the question, as if it had no importance.

"I'm a doctor, not a meteorologist," he said. "Death claims all men."

As he turned to lead Bal Zak up out of the pits, Ras Thavas added, softly: "Nearly all men."


Thuvan Dihn's expression was urgent.

"The Juggernaut is moving," he said. "And the magnetic field is active again. We cannot approach."

"Heading?" I asked.

"Southwest," he answered. "If it does not waver from its present course, it will miss the Ptarthian capital by less than a dozen haads."

"That's much too close to be coincidence, my friend," I said solemenly. "We'll stop it before it gets a thousand haads from Ptarth. I swear it."

Thuvan Dihn sighed heavily, laying a hand upon my shoulder.

"I swear, too, Tardos Mors," he said, "that we will stop the obscenity. My cartographers tell me that if its course is true, it heads for Greater Helium."


Neither Fal Sivas nor this Solan fellow could be found. Searchers did discover the room from which the Juggernaut was apparently controlled. But the instruments there were wrecked beyond usefulness.
The Juggernaut moved forward, on a direct course for the city of my ancestors, half a world away. At its ponderous pace, the monstruous machine would take months to get there. But when it did, it could easily lay waste the age-old birthplace of ten thousand jeddaks. What matter that we evacuate long before the dreadful event? Nothing could replace the priceless treasures, the history, the tradition that would be gone.

I knew that many would choose to remain and die, rather than watch helplessly as the soul was torn from our Empire. I would be among them.

Breathless thousands watched from the walled city of Ptarth as the Juggernaut tread past. It's bulk was clearly visible, some ten haads to the south. No ship could approach without being destroyed.

"We'll stop it," Thuvan Dihn said, as the Juggernaut disappeared below the horizon.

Shis-Inday had been watching silently.

"My father told me how Rain often bragged that it could split mountains," she said, after the Juggernaut had gone. "One day, the Black Mountain Spirit got tired of the boast. `Yes, yes,' he muttered, unimpressed by Rain. `But it takes a thousand of you and your brothers. By then, everyone has forgotten that you set out to do it. Watch this.' Black Mountain reached down inside himself, and The World rumbled. A new mountain thrust itself up - - right through another mountain."

She looked at us in a way that said the task was too great for mere mortals.

"They say only a mountain can humble another mountain."


The mortals of Helium and Ptarth attempted it, with help from their new allies in Kaol.

Flying high in the atmosphere, beyond the reach of the Juggernaut's deadly pull, we dropped bomb after bomb against its unyielding bulk. For months, night and day, the carnage continued, blasting craters all about the machine, but not turning it, or even slowing it.

A fleet of great warships was constructed of Kaolian rubber. Able to maneuver close to the behemoth, they nevertheless proved equally impotent. Raiding parties entered through the topside hatch. They were slaughtered by automated guns.

A trench was dug in its path, twenty miles wide and nearly as deep. The Juggernaut plunged over the side, and chewed through the crust of Barsoom, eventually emerging to continue on toward Helium.

I was mad with despair, and cursed the foul memory of Hora San. My father, too, was numb with rage.

One night, when the Juggernaut was a week from the walls of Greater Helium, Moros Tar took a light Kaolian flier and raced toward the approaching apocalypse. He wore only the simple leather of a fighting man.

I had tried to stop him; so did Shis-Inday.

But he was still Jeddak. And no man commands the Jeddak.

Through powerful scopes, I watched his suicidal charge until the small ship disappeared from my view, swallowed by the towering mass of of the Juggernaut and the wreckage that covered it.

Later that night, Shis-Inday and I sat with Thuvan Dihn and Kulan Tith in a sunken garden within an inner courtyard of the palace. My friends planned to leave for their homelands on the morrow. They urged Shis-Inday and me to come with them, bringing as many from the doomed city as would follow. But they knew their petition was lost ere they made it.

A guard announced the arrival of a Heliumetic scientist named Pohl Huck, who sought an immediate audience with me. Nodding vaguely, I bid the man enter.

The fellow seemed nervous. Excited. Some news was itching to escape his lips.

My mind with my father, I barely followed his hurried words. I stared blankly, not responding to whatever it was he attempted to explain. Finally, the scientist pulled two blocks of metal from a pouch on his harness. He slammed them to the table at my side, with some force to assure my attention.

"Magnets," he said.

I nodded, stroking Shis-Inday's cheek.

"Watch," he said.

Pohl Huck pushed one magnet toward the other, which scooted out of the way without being touched.

I lept from my couch. The others followed suit.

"They repel," said the scientist.

"Another mountain," commented Shis-Inday. "They're often in plain sight, but seldom do we really see them."


The Juggernaut was half a day from my capital when Pohl Huck's great magnetic slab was hoisted into place before it. For a moment, no change in the destroyer's inexorable trek was discernable.
But then a cheer went up from the throats of watching thousands. The Juggernaut had stopped.

And then, slowly, as if some monumental duel of wills was being waged, the Juggernaut turned. With deft guidance, Pohl Huck's magnet deflected the one buried inside the Juggernaut.

We watched until the mountain became a speck and disappeared.

To the north.


"It traveled halfway around Barsoom, from Phundahl," said Thuvan Dihn. "Will it not circumnavigate the globe? We can hardly equip every city with giant...`Gaurdian' magnets...and repel the Juggernaut back and forth at each other throughout eternity."
"I see no other means of defense, Thuvan Dihn," I said.

But the Juggernaut disappeared in the snowbound wastes of the north, never to be seen again.

Well, never to be seen in that horrible form. It would take on another, just as horrible.


"Iss," sighed Moros Tar. "Take me to Iss."

He lay upon the dry sea bottom, wounded. I'd gone to search for some sign of him, after the defeat of the Juggernaut. I thought to find no trace, or his mangled mangled body. But he still lived.

Not for long, I knew.

The fastest flier of the Empire bore us toward Kaol, the nearest point at which a Pilgrim can begin the voyage to Dor.

"Father, Ras Thavas can heal you yet," I said as we neared our destination. "Don't leave me."

"It is your time, Tardos Mors," he answered weakly. "I have had mine. A thousand years' worth. You are ready."

I looked at him through red eyes.

"Mors Kajak was ready to rule," I said. "But I failed him. And you."

"I know all that happened at Flemster -- " he began.

"Not all," I interrupted.

"All. In time, you'll learn just how much a Jeddak can know."

He coughed, bringing up blood.

"The failure belonged to Mors Kajak," said Moros Tar. "He did not lead. He chose to follow."

"Yes!" I cried. "He followed me into a winless battle against insurmountable odds. One from which only I returned."

"That is why he failed," said the former Jeddak of Helium. "Remember that, my son. Always."

Moros Tar died with the fading waters of the River of Mystery lapping at his feet.
 

A PRINCESS OF JASOOM
by Jeff Long

ERBzine 1620
Intro & Contents
ERBzine 1621
Section 1
ERBzine 1622
Section 2
ERBzine 1623
Section 3
ERBzine 1624
Section 4
ERBzine 1625
Section 5


Jeff Long's Barsoomian Blade & Panthan Press Features in ERBzine
Blade 1 | Blade 2 | Blade 3 | Blade 4 | Blade 5 | Blade Fiction 1 | Fiction 2 | Fiction 3 | Fiction 4
Princess of Jasoom | Princess 1 | Princess 2 | Princess 3 | Princess 4 | Princess 5 |



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