ERBzine Fan Fiction Series:
SKID-RIC, THE LOST MAN OF MARS
(a newly discovered chapter in the Barsoomian Chronicles)
Sent by Sabrok Kans, the Barsoomian hermit;
Thomas R. Skidmore
Art by Paul PriviteraIt seems strange to me that this so-called “diary” should come to me now when all about me is ready to go into the pits. What I mean is that all known civilization is due to collapse while the rest of all life here on Barsoom goes merrily on and on, with nary a care as if nothing will happen. That’s the thing with us, I suppose.
But…getting back to the matter of this diary:
I find the contents of this to be utterly…intriguing, to say the least. To say the most, I find it almost laughable…if the "author" perceived himself to be a madman … or worse. But, who am I to say? It’s not my place to judge a man based on what he chooses to write, or believe, or whatever he may be . . . .
And so, out of that which you Jasoomians call "the good neighbour policy," I present to you, as a gift, the diary of the Lost Man of Barsoom, named Skid-Ric.
Well, the best I can tell you is that, frankly, I don’t know how I got myself into this new life here on Barsoom, but you can thank this little “hilarious” fiasco called the Vietnam War. I suppose you’re asking why.
I Introduce Myself and my Situation
Well, you see, it started on the first day of what came to be known as the Tet Offensive. It was January 31, 1968. An event due to live, as our FDR said, in infamy, albeit ignominously.
Oh, before I get too far along, I ought to introduce myself. My name's Richard Thomas Skidmore, PFC, 2nd Recon Division, United States Army. I stand 6 feet, have sandy blond hair, and fiery Celtic blue eyes.
Getting back now, we were out on patrol around the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in downtown Saigon, in South Vietnam. It was hot as hell, temperature-wise, and we sweated out buckets. Anyway, we got word earlier that a bunch of Charlie-trained civilians were due to swarm the Embassy. We were ready for them — or so we thought . . .
And so my platoon, consisting of myself, my cousin, my friend since childhood, and a bunch of others took our positions at various points around the Embassy, not knowing what really to expect. Inside, I began sensing the overall pointlessness of our purposes in ‘Nam. I can just imagine what the reaction was like at home.
Putting those thoughts, and all others aside, we tensely stood at our positions, looking around in every which direction. After a few minutes, we grew really antsy and nervous. Then my cousin moved from his position to where I stood, the look of fear clearly etched on his face.
"Hey, Rich, you know what'll happen?" he asked in a raspy whisper.
I looked at him in a wary manner.
"I don’t know, but next time don't move from your position, or it'll be the last move you'll ever make. Clear?"
He nodded somberly, then promptly returned to his given vantage point. Hour after hour we stayed at our points, sweating out each of those moments. Our jaws were clenched, and our teeth were grinding. Somehow or other,we knew the unexpected was due to happen . . . and it did!
Suddenly, we were greeted by the vwhoosh! of a Charlie bazooka rocket!
"Incoming!!!" shouted my sergeant, as the rocket burst in the middle of the Embassy square. All at once we scrambled to take cover as the first bullets of the enemy-trained civilians found their way to our platoon.
Then . . . the real carnage began!
Swiftly we exchanged barrage after barrage with the enemy. In a weird sense, it was somehow -- I don’t know -- exhilarating! I actually welcomed it!
That is, until I heard a piteous cry from behind me. I turned to look, and a gruesome sight greeted my eyes. There, on the now-blood-soaked grounds of the U.S. Embassy, in Saigon, South Vietnam, was my cousin, to whom I was very close, bleeding profusely. He'd taken the brunt of the second barrage, and it became sickeningly obvious that he wouldn't be much longer for this world, in spite of the medics' best efforts to save this brave young man from the dripping jaws of Death.
Then, a third round of barrage came our way, and we were once more forced to scramble for cover -- if any such was to be found! Having no choice but to leave my cousin’s now-lifeless corpse in the square, I took refuge in a small parking garage adjacent to the main Embassy building, hoping against hope for the chance for a little Skidmore-style vengeance. My rule of thumb is: you mess with a Skidmore, you don’t stand a snowball's chance in hell!
Little did I know that it was the very last moment I would ever spend in the boiling cesspool called Vietnam . . . because at that exact second another Charlie rocket struck the garage, causing the entire structure to collapse; thus I had no chance to fight back in honor of my cousin.
I was knocked out cold, still thinking of a way to both get out of this mess and to avenge my cousin at the same time . . . .
I Wake Up to a Strange Sight
How long I was out cold, I don’t have any inkling of an idea. All I do know is that when I did wake up, I gazed upon the strangest thing I had ever witnessed. Now, before you get any funny ideas, let me say to you right now that I was very much alive and well, having done a quick frisk of myself. Yeah, still in uniform, no apparent injuries . . . but no armaments.
Moving on to my initial gazing, I looked up at a rather weirdly-colored sky. It was a mix of reds, blacks, and some greens and purples as well. Kind of like those "acid trips" that I heard so much about from the guys in my outfit. The guys, I thought to myself. All gone now . . . all but me . . . .
Coming out of my dazed thinking, I returned my focus to the strange sky. Then the strangest sight of all met my eyes. I wasn’t sure, but I swore I saw two moons!
Slowly I realized that this wasn’t the normal idea of the so-called afterlife. A sudden sound, clearly vocal in tone, confirmed that notion.
"Kaor!" it called out in my general direction. I turned around, and my eyes just boggled almost out of my head. There, before my very living presence, stood a four-armed giant, at least ten feet tall, with sharp tusks growing up from his jaw. The shade of green on his body could put Western Pennsylvania’s trees to utter shame.
Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I replied to the "guy" with the same "greeting."
"Kaor." I think he got the message, because he actually smiled at me. Slightly.
Summoning me to follow him, the guy led me to a small aircraft of some sort. The engine was in the rear of the craft, reminding me of my Air Force buddies on their carriers. The wings were delta-formation, meaning they were swept back for aerodynamic performance. The cockpit was open-spaced, like a convertible car. Overall, I was impressed!
We climbed in, seated ourselves, and then took off into the skies of wherever I was by now. Just out of normal manners, I turned to my green-skinned chauffeur.
"Where are we going to, anyway?" I asked.
He looked at me in a very funny way, shaking his giant head. Evidently he couldn't understand a word of what I was saying.
And so with further casual conversation out of the question, we resumed our trip in total silence yet the signs of friendship were there . . . .
My Meeting With a Legendary Hero
After what passed for a few minutes, our journey through the strange skies of Mars(as I came to believe at the time) soon ended, and we landed inside a great city; a strange mix of people of all sizes and shapes (literally) congregated around, doing their various activities: sellers hawking their products; others sitting around eating and drinking and having a good time, not caring a thing about Vietnam…or Earth itself, for that matter.
Then my green companion beckoned me to follow him again, and so, not having anything much else to do, I followed him.
He led me into a great palace that reminded me of one of the Catholic churches in my old neighborhood back in the 'Burgh. The windows were of a type of stained glass that I'd never seen before. Apparently they told stories of battle, warfare, and yet also celebrated Life as well.
I was in the middle of my admiration of the windows when my reverie was interrupted by the voice of the green gigantic guy I had just met. He pointed his way to what appeared to be some kind of—throne-room! No Catholic church back home ever had this!
Presently I made my was to the guy sitting on his throne, or chair, or—whatever. He was talking to my green companion, no doubt about little ol’ me. Then the “king”, such as he apparently was, summoned me forward.
"Tars Tarkas tells me that you apparently just came to Barsoom, fellow warrior. From whence do you come?" he asked.
"My name is Richard Thomas Skidmore, PFC, 2nd Recon Division, United States Army."
He laughed slightly.
"Uh, no, no. I mean, where were you born?"
Aha! Now I got it.
"Well, sire, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA."
I thought I saw his eyes light up!
"Ah, a fellow Jasoomian. It’s been too long since I met with a Jasoomian."
Slowly it dawned on me. I grew increasingly familiar with this man I was talking to!
"Hey, wait a second!" I said. "I think I know who you are. You’re--?!"
"That’s right. John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, once of Virginia. Tell me, Mr. Skidmore, how are things on our home world?" he asked.
"Not good, I'm afraid. See, it's the year 1968 on our world, and our America is embroiled in a senseless conflict," I said to him.
John Carter nodded somberly.
"Oh, yes. The Vietnam War, no doubt. You are right in declaring it a senseless war."
In amazement, I looked at him.
"You’ve been keeping informed of our planet’s troubles?"
"My friend, it's a duty to myself to remain up-to-date of Earth's progress…if you call all that has occurred 'progress,'" he replied sadly, though he didn't readily show it.
I both nodded my head and shook it at the same time. And…as always, I was amazed.
But little did I know that a new and even more senseless battle or two lay ahead . . . .
I Get a Taste of Barsoomian Warfare
After a few days here on Mars—oh, sorry, Barsoom, as the citizens call this place, I began to get rather used to the situation. My reasoning: hey, at least I’m not in Vietnam. That, if anything, was a good thing…or so I thought at first. I was really loving it up here.
My conversations with John Carter grew more and more casual by the minute, or however they measure time here. Man, I should have kept up on all this stuff. Especially the terminology they use for just about everything. And the native language . . . well, that proved easier for me in all respects.
All in all, it seemed almost . . . perfect. In fact, as I still thought at the time, a little too perfect. I still did not know that even here on Barsoom, every paradise has its serpent. But . . . I suppose that’s what I get for my thinking.
Anyway, it was all so neat to actually be on another planet. I mean—well, you know.
Then, on what I thought was the ninth day of my stay here, I awoke from a restful sleep to the sounds of what I had no doubt were explosions! A sudden vibration shook the building where John Carter resided.
"What the hell’s that??!!?" I yelled out loud to no one in particular.
As if in reply to that question, Carter raced to my room. He looked mad as hell!
"Hey, what the hell's going on here?" I asked rather harshly.
"Isn’t it painfully obvious? We’re under attack!" he stated.
"By whom, I wonder?" (I should have mentioned it previously that I have a rather weird curiosity in regards to things that I find unique, interesting, or even just plain absurd.)
"Come with me, fellow warrior, and see for yourself!" he boomed.
Swiftly he led me to the palace grounds, and I just couldn’t believe what we saw then. There, above our heads, were a fleet of aircraft engaged in the biggest dogfight I had ever witnessed. It more than reminded me of those WWII battles, which I had seen on those documentaries on TV as a kid.
Soon, however, that fascination turned into all-out terror as a barrage, not unlike the one that killed my cousin back in 'Nam, came directly at me. Then . . . I ran like hell, not sure where to go for cover.
Carter’s voice called out to me from almost out of nowhere.
"Over here, warrior!"
I raced to his position, still not sure what to do next.
"Have you any weapons on you?"
Smiling slightly, he funished me with a sword and a rather odd-looking hand gun.
"Here. Use these, and aid us in defeat of the enemy!"
I returned his smile. Now I wanted to fight more than ever, if only in honor of my dead cousin. If only he could see me now, I thought to myself.
Swiftly I exchanged barrage after barrage with our attackers, whom Carter told me much later on were from a distant city-state called Zodanga. (Oh, before I forget to tell you, I proved rather adept at swordplay, having grown up reading of John Carter’s adventures. And the gunplay—well,you know how that goes.)
For over two hours we fought these pirates (and I don’t mean my hometown baseball team, either). But luckily for us, we proved too much for them, and they high-tailed it out of Helium, which is the capitol of Barsoom. Or so I thought.
After the fight ended, Carter walked up to me, clearly impressed.
"You fought well, fellow warrior. It must be in your blood," he said.
"No, just good training back home," I modestly replied, a grin crossing my face.
He laughed uproariously, which, as I recall, is a rarity on Barsoom.
"Come, fellow warrior! Let’s celebrate!" he boomed in good humor.
Yeah, I was definitely going to love it here . . .
My Sudden Discovery
Well into my ninth month on Barsoom, I grew steadily acclimated to the landscapes and mountain ranges of this…unique world. That allowed me to go off on my own and do some exploring. Again, it’s due to the fact that all us Skidmores have rather insatiable curiosities.
Anyway, I was just casually strolling alongside what I gathered was one of the now-dried rivers of this one-vibrant planet. Like Carter before me, I wondered if Earth was next to slowly crumble up. Shaking my head, I answered my own question with the realization that Earth would be blown apart by both us Yanks and the Russkies combined. And that, I assure you, was not a pleasant thought to have, believe me on that.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Now I remember. As I just said, I was looking around at the various mountains and large hills when unexpectedly I found myself drawn to a modest-sized cave. Upon entering, I was greeted with a weird aroma wafting from deep inside. What that aroma was, I couldn’t think to guess.
Deeper and deeper I walked, finally coming to a strange shimmer of light. And the light seemed to be—moving, though it might have been my imagination. At least, that’s what I initially believed at the time.
The next moments would send that little assurance down in flames!
I Unexpectedly Find Love
"Who enters my dwelling?" It was the voice of a woman, and she sounded fearful!
Casually I tried my best to answer her in a calm manner.
"Don't be afraid. I won't harm you in any way. Come on out," I replied.
Instantly the "light" actually shrunk in size even as its wielder moved to my position. Presently I gazed on a young woman, with long black hair ending in china-doll bangs on her forehead, dusky skin, dark-black eyes and a perfect figure. As to her wardrobe, well—let’s just say she went au naturel, to put it mildly.
"Who are you? What do you here in my dwelling?" she asked harshly.
Faintly I smiled, partly to keep her calm but mainly to show my friendliness.
"Kaor, miss. My name's Richard Thomas Skidmore, PFC, 2nd Recon Division, United States Army," I said to her formally.
Her lovely black eyes narrowed in utter bewilderment.
"I know of no 'United States Army'. From whence do you come?" she asked haughtily.
Again I kept up the casual demeanor.
"Oh, let’s just say that I’m from out of town, and I just got here."
Unbelievably, and to my relief, she smiled back.
"Now," I continued, "who are you?"
"My name is Truva. Some call me the 'Torch Woman', but I -- well, it is not easy to explain to one so new to our world," she responded in an increasingly casual tone.
No argument here, I thought to myself. No argument.
"Well, you can at least try," I responded, not knowing why I did so.
Sighing heavily, she made the attempt to do so.
"Very well." She lowered the torch she held, and walked with me to the outside of the cave, just by the entranceway. The fresh air—what little there was, as I later learned—seemed to invigorate her greatly. This story I just had to hear.
"As I told you, man of another place, I am called the 'Torch Woman'. My purpose is a drab one. It is also my punishment. I fear it is a sad tale I tell," she replied.
I knew I shouldn’t have asked this, but I did so anyway.
"And, uh, what did you to earn such a punishment?"
"Well…it is a rather long tale to relate to you, man from another world. Indeed, even now this exile follows no logic what-so-ever. You see, my outworld friend, I am a seeress, of the Temple of Issus, who is our one true goddess. It was my duty to ensure that Issus would ever be appeased, lest she bring forth the downfall of Barsoom."
"And that’s what led to your exile?" I asked.
"No, not quite. You see, I came into contact with those who sought to discredit Issus with their strange talk of this thing called 'technology'. Now, I am not against some of such ideas, as proven by our air fliers and armaments. But . . . I later discovered that those beings only wished to stage an anarchic uprising, bringing about the destruction of our lone Atmosphere Factory, which makes our air moderately breathable, as I gather you found out."
"I sort of figured that out already," I told her.
"Of course. I doubt not your intellect, nor do I insult your person. I merely seek out any being willing to listen to my story," replied Truva not without a slight smile on her face.
"Fair enough, Truva. Go on."
"Well, there’s not much more to tell. I revealed this news to my leaders. They dismissed this as the ravings of a mad woman, and as a result I was stripped of my duties, and thus found myself exiled in this cave, with only a little phosphorus light to see with. I became convinced that I was to spend my last remaining days in here. That is, until I met you, my outworld man. I thank you deepest from my soul."
"Hey, no problem. Only one thing, though," I said.
She looked at me in an odd manner.
"And what is that, may I ask?"
I hesitated momentarily.
"Well . . . you can call me -- Skid-Ric, if that’s all right with you."
She smiled broadly for what I assumed was for the first time in ages.
"All right…Skid-Ric it is."
And with that siad, she kissed me rather passionately, and well—let’s just say that we really got to know one another now. I thought to myself that, all in all, things were going to work out fine. Only I had no idea just how wrong I was in regards to that notion . . .
A New Danger Arises for Us
The next morning, Truva and I awoke to a glorious sunrise, which, as I once believed, was a bit of a rarity on this dying planet. But who was I to argue? I didn’t really care. As long as I had my new love with me, all else can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, we casually walked around the unique mountains of my new Barsoomian home, just soaking it all in, not caring at all about tomorrow, or a thousand years, or even a million. As I said, it all seemed so . . . idyllic, almost like the proverbial Garden of Eden.
Suddenly a hideous roar greeted our ears. It came from the eastern region of the area, and soon we raced to find out what the hell it was.
What we saw made my jaw drop to the ground in shock-induced terror!! There, before our very eyes, stood the most—monstrous sight I had ever laid eyes upon!! A gigantic ape, pure white, with the sharpest fangs imaginable! And his size -- well, King Kong had nothing on this character! Almost 11 ½ feet tall he stood, with four powerful arms to match! He had a club in one of those mighty arms, ready to put Roberto Clemente to shame!
Smiling grimly, I made Truva find herself some cover, and soon eyed the son-of-a-bitch!
"Okay, pal, you want to play?! Fine! Let’s PLAY!!!" I sneered.
He took me up on that offer . . .
And thus the diary of Skid-Ric ends here. Did he survive, you ask? Well . . . this I know not, but when that answer reveals itself to me, I will thus reveal it to you. But only when the time comes . . .
END OF PART ONE