CHAPTER 48: "JAWS OF DEATH"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
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
"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
"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.