"Lost In The Desert"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
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
"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
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
"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
"And me also," responded Dejah Thoris. "But I have
seen frost and snow, which are but frozen forms of the same thing. Isn't
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."