CHAPTER 55: "A DARING PLAN"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
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.