The Emerald of Mars
by Ed Augusts
Although Barsoom was a planet already burdened with a proud and ancient
history in the years before the advent of John Carter, his presence there
nevertheless influenced the planet and contributed toward its development
more than any other single factor in the long history of Barsoom. This
singularly mysterious man, insignificant in size when compared to any Green
Barsoomian, evoked an awe from those who knew him, as well as from those
many millions of Barsoomians who only heard of John Carter through legends
that swept across the dead sea bottoms of the planet, into nearly every
broad plain and inaccessible canyon from the Lost Sea of Korus to the Artolian
Though his form has vanished from Barsoom, he is
still venerated and loved by those who knew him, and remembered by those
countless millions who only heard of his deeds. A tale of his exploits
that is widely known among the people of Barsoom is one that occurred in
the summer of John Carter's eighth year on the planet. Few Barsoomians
heard of the entire adventure at the time, since it took place in a remote
spot of Barsoom removed from civilized life. And John Carter, by nature
a modest man, was reluctant to tell anyone of it.
John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, winced
at the bright morning sunlight from the sun that was rising above the broad
horizon stretching beyond the last ancient houses of Greater Helium toward
the yellow-coloured spire of Lesser Helium. A tiny dot of a moon sped overhead,
a bright pebble in the glowing sunlight. Suddenly, anguish swept
over John Carter and he turned his face from the scene before him and wept
silently in a dark corner, those tears the first to glisten on his cheeks
since his coming to Barsoom.
John Carter held a letter in his hand, a letter written
in a strange language not of Barsoom or of Earth. But Carter could imagine
what meaning the letter had. It was undoubtedly a ransom note from the
villains who had stolen his dear wife, Dejah Thoris from him the evening
That past scene grew vivid in his memory. Returning
to his room after an evening of walking through the streets of Greater
Helium, he noticed Dejah Thoris not sleeping on her bed where he had last
seen her. Spinning around he caught sight of her in the arms of a horrendous
creature, much unlike any Barsoomian he had ever seen. A distorted female
face surprised him from behind the door, and before John Carter could even
comprehend what was happening, a heavy metal bar, swung by a third creature,
grazed his skull and crashed across his shoulders, throwing him down to
the floor in a state of unconsciousness. When palace guards found Carter
he was not seriously injured, his rugged frame withstanding the powerful
attack. But Dejah Thoris and the beasts that had been in the chamber were
gone, and all that remained was a yellow parchment-like paper on her bed
written in strange characters and forms.
That night was spend in a search of the city to find the
missing princess, but Dejah Thoris was nowhere to be found. Troops and
police searched from house to house in Greater and Lesser Helium but to
no avail. A clue to her disappearance was found late in the afternoon
when an airship was reported missing by a wealthy Barsoomian official in
Lesser Helium. It was found that a policeman had seen it rise slowly above
the city and fly southward, but he had thought it of no importance at the
As the morning came, John Carter realized that his wife
was alone with cutthroats somewhere on Barsoom. As he impatiently waited
for more reports from officials and the military, Carter vowed he would
not rest a minute in his efforts to find his wife and the ones who had
stolen her from him. His position, his palace, his life itself would mean
nothing to him now if he were forced to live his days without his beloved
"John Carter, I have come!" An ominously large green shape
squeezed itself through a doorway. It was Carter's old friend, Tars Tarkas,
Jeddak of Thark.
"I heard this morning what had happened and left my people
to help you in any way I could." John Carter smiled hopefully, and
patted the huge Barsoomian warrior-chief on his tough shoulder.
"Thanks, Tars Tarkas. We haven't a minute to lose! I must
find Dejah Thoris and I think I can accomplish that faster if I have this
letter translated!" Tars Tarkas looked at the letter and blinked.
"John Carter, I will follow you across all of Barsoom in
pursuit of danger but you know I would rather destroy enemies than decipher
"In time we shall both be able to destroy enemies! Now
let us go to my air flier in the street below, and speed to a distant province."
A circular staircase led to a broad and elegant room of
granite and marble. Beyond it, the street and airship waiting for the two
A whispering, massive crowd had gathered in the streets
when they had heard of the unfortunate incident the night before. Lines
of tension showed on the faces of the gaily dressed palace guards who had
worked feverishly the night through in their vain efforts of finding Dejah
Thoris in the city, or of any clue to solve her disappearance. John Carter
held the only, and certainly the most important clue, the unfathomable
letter that he clutched as he and Tars Tarkas stepped out with the hard,
determined look of those who believe that nothing can seriously affect
them for long. The pair soon disappeared into their ship, and the silent
craft flew vertically several hundred feet into the crisp Barsoomian sky
to be above the tall spires and buildings of Greater Helium, and then streaked
toward the distant horizon to grapple with forces of a kind no man of Mars
or Earth had ever met or could hope to destroy. The tenacious John Carter
thus began a campaign to find his dear wife, and punish those who had so
rashly stolen her from him.
An hour of flying across monotonous seas of
yellow moss took John Carter and Tars Tarkas over an area seldom visited
by many Barsoomians. From the distance of one hundred haads, the
brilliantly green edges of the Great Toonolian Marshes could be plainly
seen, a striking contrast against the dull ochre moss which covers most
of the planet. In the depths of this giant jungled patch lived perhaps
the only man of Barsoom who could decipher the strange language of the
letter, and the reason for Carter's visit to the Marshes was solely to
speak to this old scholar.
The Great Toonolian Marshes were stilled as
as evening approached. The small animals of the area had finished
their food-seeking and they scurried inside their burrows in the trunks
and branches of old marsh trees to spend the night. Now was the time
for the night creatures, generally the larger and more carnivorous animals
to appear, either slithering out from their giant ponds of slimy water,
or crawling from their homes in the trees on the many hills and ridges
that protruded from the stagnant and muddy pools and streams that generally
composed the swamps. Then they would find and kill their prey and then
return to their natural homes as morning approached.
Under a darkened sky the craft which carried
John Carter and Tars Tarkas silently sped to the thickest portion of the
Toonolian Swampland and then stopped, hovering quietly. John Carter
surveyed the countryside. Green jungle foliage stretched from horizon
to horizon. Not far distant was a group of small steep hills that
pierced the green blanket of the swamp. They were darkly wooded and
very similar in appearance. Nevertheless, John Carter knew what his
goal was. He flew his ship directly above and over one of the peaks,
and then settled the airship slowly into the jungle.
John Carter and Tars Tarkas stepped from their
craft and furtively climbed up a grassy slope that rose from the deep waters
below, reflecting upon the cloudy sky of evening and the moons appearing
through broken clouds above. The grass was long and scratchy to walk
in, but even the small cuts that appeared on John Carter's bare legs were
nothing to the punishment of constantly slipping through and among the
branches and strange roots of warped trees that stretched up the hillside
of this old sinking mountain range.
Tars Tarkas helped matters by pushing apart
some of the smaller trees, but even he was occasionally stopped by picket-fence
walls of trees growing within inches of each other. Finally though, the
pair reached the top of the hill, several hundred yards from their starting
point in the marshes below. The swamps below were quiet except for occasional
bird-like whispers, shrieks, and low rumbles from creatures seldom seen
by anyone. But they seemed to be farther down in the swamps, and
the steaming jungle was rather quiet. In any case, Tars Tarkas wondered
if the home of the old scholar they would visit was nearby.
Finally John Carter gained the top of the hill
where there was strangely no vegetation and no trees. This was the
only spot in the Toonolian Marshes where one could see the home of the
Even in the darkness of night, two small pinpoints of light
could be seen reflected below them. They came from a dark opening on the
side of the hill opposite the slope they had climbed.
"That, Tars Tarkas, is where Rodemm the scholar lives,
and has lived for the past thousand years."
"What an infernal spot in which to spend one's time."
"Rodemm was a great scientist of Barsoom, a descendant
of those scientists that engineered the canals of this planet. He has learned
the secrets of time and science and now has chosen to spend his remaining
days on Barsoom here, in this distant spot."
"Why trouble the old creature?" Tars Tarkas and John Carter
were now quickly descending.
"He is possibly the only one alive who could tell me the
meaning of this letter. Along with his prowess as a scientist, he
is also an exceptional linguist."
Struggling out of the grip of a sharp branch, John Carter
saw that far below them were the dark waters of the ancient marshes. And
between the marshes and where they were standing was the opening to the
cavern of scholar Rodemm.
Descending still further, John Carter finally jumped to
the lip of a ledge that hung a few feet above the murky and frightening
waters. He looked up and saw the massive Tars Tarkas step down, nearly
placing his green foot on top of him because of the darkness.
"Never mind. Lets look in the cave." Around the edges of
the cave's entrance was a semi-luminescent ring, and two burning white
lights glared upon them and the dark marshes from the two sides. It was
unexpectedly dark inside. The light around the Cave's exterior did nothing
to light the inside.
"John Carter.. I feel the presence of a strange beast."
Carter stopped in his tracks and listened cautiously,
putting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
A breathing sound was issuing from farther inside the cave,
and a whiff of something fetid and decaying was in the air. Fearlessly,
though, John Carter stepped forward. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain strike
his face and the wetness of his own blood flowed in a sudden gush down
his bare neck and chest. Toppling to the cave floor, part of his cheek
nearly gouged out, he heard a few distant sounds and felt a soft numbness
that came slowly upward from his lower body and finally wafted
him to unconsciousness.
The darkness he endured for long moments on the floor of
the cave seemed only a second to him as he came awake under the strenuous
tugs and efforts of Tars Tarkas. Carter opened his eyes and saw that the
cave was now brilliantly lighted, and that a man of the Red Barsoomian
race stood with Tars Tarkas above him. A many-clawed, double-headed, and
otherwise fearsome beast was lying sprawled over much of the floor of the
cave, dead by the hand of Tars Tarkas. The man, easily recognized as Rodemm,
had finished applying medications to John Carter's face. He fingered his
cheek gingerly, but it felt numb, cold, and like plastic. He shook his
head and then rose from the floor of the cave.
"How feel you, John Carter?" Queried Tars Tarkas.
"Never better, but for the coldness in my cheek."
"That will pass quickly and you will be stronger
than before, and I have sewn you together again so that not a scar will
remain." Rodemm was speaking, his old voice still mellow and youthful.
"The beast behind us crawled out from the marsh and has bothered me these
past sixty years. I am grateful to both of you for coming and destroying
the creature." Rodemm was smiling cheerfully.
"We come, Rodemm on a mission of oppressive importance.
You must help me if you can." Tars Tarkas spoke in his low crisp voice
to old Rodemm.
"Why, yes. If it is anything reasonable I certainly
will do it. I owe you a debt of gratitude for destroying the beast. Tell
me what it is as you come with me to my living quarters."
A small cave that joined the larger one perpendicularly,
was filled with odd bones, decaying food matter and excreta. It had obviously
been the den of the beast Tars Tarkas had killed. Beyond it, the cavern
was dark and then around a sudden narrowing turn, brilliantly lighted with
glowing panels atop the now-tubular long cave. A large steel gate, placed
there to guard against large and small Toonolian Marsh creatures opened
easily to the hand of Scholar Rodemm, and the three entered a huge room
flanked with walls of grey and silver computers, strange scientific devices,
and machinery that both Carter and Tars Tarkas had never seen before.
"Speak what you will, John Carter."
John Carter, now completely recovered from any wounds
he received, stood and told Rodemm that he was a friend, sympathetic to
science, and that he had come to show him a strange letter and to see if
he could translate it for him.
The scholar then spoke, his voice friendly and reasonable,
but his words fierce and distracting.
"Your strange letter may be of importance to you, and it
may not. In any case, it is of no importance to me! I must busy myself
with other matters.. replenishing the Barsoomian Seas with water, and many
kindred and diverse matters. Now you may return to your ship and go back
to whence you came!"
"Wait, Rodemm!" But Rodemm had spoken quietly and
distinctly, and turned to leave the chamber. Thirty feet separated him
from John Cater, and he would be gone in another moment. Quickly, looking
and seeing that the roof of the cavern they were in was nearly a hundred
feet above them, Carter took a step and jumped with all his strength, landing
a few feet in front of the old scientist.
"You are not of Barsoom, By the throne of Issus!" The old
scientist was surprised by this miraculous showing of athletic ability
no one of the planet could have possibly equaled, allowed to Carter by
the weakened Martian gravity and his own powerful muscles.
"John Carter, "Said Tars Tarkas, approaching from the other
end of the giant room, "Let me hang this scholar by his toes for his ungrateful
attitude as a warning of what happens to those who tamper with the temper
of Tars Tarkas!"
"No, Tars Tarkas." A faint smile etched John Carter's features.
"Remember, I might have bled to death had he not helped me." Then he thought.
"But perhaps we could do it later though, if the old scholar does fail
to help us after we have reasonably discussed the matter with him and he
persists in his attitude!"
The old man's ancient shoulders shrugged, and his face grew glum,
but he winked and seemed content with the situation and the persistence
of these strangers.
"All right, you have won the battle. Now let
me see your fabled letter!"
John Carter withdrew from his side a yellow piece
of paper and slipped it into the scholar's hand.
"Tell me what it says, old Scholar, and we will leave you
here to your work."
The eyes of the scientist narrowed as he scanned the paper,
and then suddenly glowed with excitement. He took an enlarging glass and
looked intently at the letters and words written the night Dejah Thoris
was stolen from John Carter by the strange creatures at the palace in Greater
"Can you decipher its meaning, Rodemm?"
The bony figure twitched and then ran about the room,
searching to find and old book of language comparisons, but Rodemm failed
to answer John Carter. The man skimmed across page after page in the book,
and then looked up at Carter as he asked the very same question again,
this time in an impatient tone.
"Its meaning? I must notify the Universities of Barsoom.
Never was I as pleased with anything since I discovered a dozen books of
the ancient white race. Its meaning? Untranslatable to me, but perhaps
a machine could unravel it for you!"
Tars Tarkas smashed his huge fist upon the table, scattering
papers upon the floor.
"Scholar, you say much yet tell us little. Can you decipher
it or not?"
Rodemm curled his lip and thought a minute. "Possibly
after weeks of calculation and speculation, after thousands of failures,
an ordinary Barsoomian scientist could unravel the meaning of the first
several words. But I, to satiate your lust in this matter, will decipher
the letter in several seconds!"
Carter and Tars Tarkas were duly impressed. The scholar
seemed certain of what he was doing, and confident that he would succeed.
"Follow me, gentlemen, and you will find I accomplish what
to anyone else would be a miracle!"
Rodemm then pressed a switch and part of the wall facing
them slid back, revealing a dark chamber beyond. Rodemm disappeared into
it, and John Carter and Tars Tarkas followed. All was darkness as the wall
closed again. Tars Tarkas nervously spoke to Carter of their situation.
"John Carter! It is a trap. Prepare to fight and die, for
I sense danger ahead!"
John Carter scoffed at the idea of any danger confronting
them here, in the dark tunnels of an old and eccentric scientist, but he
remembered that Tars Tarkas had been quite correct in warning him against
the ferocious cave-beast minutes earlier and then wondered what lay ahead.
~ TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE OF ODWAR FANZINE