Solo Paxis surveyed the dead sea bottom with
a sigh. Ocher moss covered the ground for miles in all directions.
Just that morning he had been traveling in the temporary
capacity of cook and groom with a small band of panthans, when his party
suddenly encountered a great caravan of green men making their way home
from a distant incubator. A hundred swords were drawn. Amid
the shouts and the clang of metal, Solo Paxis quietly borrowed a small
thoat from his comrades and departed to seek his fortune in more civilized
Though modest in stature, this thoat had proven
to be even more ill-tempered than most of its kind. It had not reacted
well to Solo Paxis’ efforts to encourage it to swiftness by means of his
heels in its flanks and the flat of his sword between its ears. It
soon threw him from its back and raced off squealing in the direction of
Unfortunately, the sack filled with food that he
had appropriated along with the thoat had departed with it, leaving Solo
Paxis in the middle of nowhere with little more than his harness and a
“One direction is as good as another when a man
has neither mount nor nourishment,” Solo Paxis observed with a shrug.
He took a draft from his waterskin and started walking.
After half a day’s walk he felt a slight twinge
of hunger. After a day he was quite hungry, and after two long days
he found himself desperate for anything edible. He sat down to think
on an outcropping of quartz.
“The lower beasts subsist for months on nothing
more than moss,” reasoned Solo Paxis. “Why, to a thoat or zitidar
this ocher carpet would be a jeddak’s banquet!” Kneeling, he proceeded
to stuff clumps of the tough moss into his mouth. Soon after he had
finished eating, his stomach began to growl menacingly like a banth on
the prowl. He walked on, his hunger only slightly abated.
“Meat and leather share the same origins,” reasoned
Solo Paxis. “In point of fact, leather is no more than fresh meat
grown wise with experience.” Starting a small fire with a handful
of moss and the flint in his pocket pouch, he carefully roasted his right
sandal until it was black on both sides. Soon after he had devoured
it, his belly began to swell alarmingly like a startled optang.
Solo Paxis reclined on a large flat rock in an effort
to calm his raging belly. From the corner of his eye he saw a flash of
purple deep in a crack in the rock’s surface.
“Certainly those are the leaves of the mantalia plant,”
he told himself. “I can derive much nourishment from the milk of
a single small sprout.” He stretched his hand down into the opening,
but could not reach far enough no matter how he strained. Drawing
his sword, he pried at the crevice, but the rock was unyielding.
In frustration, Solo Paxis hacked at the edge of the opening, soon breaking
his sword in two and sending the more important half down into the crevice.
This action disturbed the darseen that had been asleep there. The
tiny reptile sprang from the crack, changed its color from purple to ocher,
and raced away across the moss. Narrowing his eyes, Solo Paxis muttered
a few words to his First Ancestor. He replaced what was left of his
sword in its scabbard, rose to his feet and trudged on.
Weariness and hunger slowed his steps to a crawl.
Just when he felt he could walk no farther, he stumbled over a rise and
came upon an ancient red man sitting alone in a wooden cart. For
a small man, he sported a very large head, Solo Paxis observed, and he
was almost totally bald, with but a single tuft of grey hair rising up
from his forehead like a wisp of smoke. The wagon was filled with
many strange devices, all connected to one another by wires and tubes.
These formed a tower that rose far above the old man, while more of the
same littered the ground all around the cart. Nearby stood a plump
thoat, grazing placidly on moss.
“Greetings!” cried the little man, lovingly caressing
the lights and levers on the nearest machine. “I am Varor Otz, the
“Greetings!” replied Solo Paxis, resting his hand
confidently on the remnant of broken sword hiding in its scabbard.
“I am Kwasor Kor, the celebrated panthan.”
He eyed the cart, which was leaning severely to
one side. “By what mischance did you come to be marooned out here?
Your vehicle appears to have lost its left rear wheel.”
“Not at all!” Varor Otz retorted. “The devoted
scientist makes use of his materials as a lover employs the parts of his
body. I have merely altered that object’s location and function in
the service of an important experiment.” He gestured to where the
missing wheel now protruded midway up the tower of machinery. “But
what of your own unusual situation? Your right foot appears to have
lost its sandal.”
“Not at all!” Solo Paxis responded. “The zealous
warrior must command his body as a general leads his troops. Noticing
recently that my right foot had grown a trifle less tough than the left,
I discarded its cushion and immediately embarked upon a routine of strict
discipline designed to correct the imbalance. When the slacker has
redeemed himself, I have but to slay the nearest banth and fashion a new
sandal from its hide. But may I inquire as to what you are doing
out here in a wagon that will not roll?”
“Indeed!” The little man disembarked from
the canted cart by means of a short rope ladder. “You see before
you the first man in half a million years wise enough to comprehend the
science of the various planetary and solar rays. I alone have the
knowledge to construct a device for the extraction of the repulsive virtues
once well-known to our ancestors. For two hundred years have I labored
at my craft, the last ten out here where I might obtain the solitude I
require.” Varor Otz cocked his head toward a cup-like metal shield
that sat atop the tower of machinery and lowered his voice confidentially.
“Soon, when I have overcome a few minor obstacles, and my collector has
finally accumulated enough of the Eighth Barsoomian Ray, then shall I fill
the tanks of my cart and cause it to soar through the heavens like a gigantic
wooden bird!” The old man cackled with laughter. “Is it not
Solo Paxis smiled politely. As is the custom
on Barsoom, he had been counseled by his mother almost from the egg to
tell the truth without fail. As he grew older, however, he had quickly
learned that the insane and feeble-minded rarely appreciated being addressed
“I can see that your equipment is quite valuable,”
declared Solo Paxis. “For no more than my meals, a few gold coins
and the use of your cart as my bed, I shall provide protection against
the bold thieves and deadly monsters that roam these desolate sea bottoms
by day and by night.”
Varor Otz examined the newcomer with open skepticism.
“In fact you are the first creature of any sort that I have encountered
in many months. I need no protection beyond my sword and pistols
and I have no funds to give, though I will share my food with you.
I myself sleep in the cart, but you are welcome to lie next to the thoat
Solo Paxis pondered the old man’s words. “I
accept these minor modifications to my offer,” he said with a stiff bow.
“Doubtless my mere presence will provide ample disincentive to those savages
who would molest you.” At that moment his stomach produced a loud
growl of dissatisfaction. Solo Paxis coughed into his fist.
“I would put forth no protest were our first communal repast to commence
at once as a seal to our agreement.”
The old man shot a calculating glance at the swiftly
setting sun. “You are fortunate in that your arrival coincides with
the time appointed for the evening meal,” he observed. Solo Paxis
seated himself on the moss and watched with interest as the little scientist
lifted a heavy curtain that hung from the side of the wagon and drew forth
one of several wooden casks. Something glimmered bright as gold under
the cart behind him. Solo Paxis craned his neck to see it, whereupon
Varor Otz raised a disapproving eyebrow and pulled the curtain down with
a sharp tug.
The old scientist carried over two platters.
He handed one to Solo Paxis, who was licking his lips in anticipation,
and opened the cask. Taking a metal spoon from a clasp on his harness,
he ladled a tiny whitish mound onto each platter. He closed the cask,
set his own platter down on top of it, and began to devour the mound in
small, precise spoonfuls. “Delicious as always!” he exclaimed.
Solo Paxis sat unmoving, eyeing his still largely empty platter without
enthusiasm. “Eat!” said Varor Otz magnanimously. “Do not stand
on ceremony, for we have but the one utensil. Choose fingers or tongue
to empty your plate—only the thoat and I will see!” He gave his cackling
laugh and resumed his fastidious dining.
Solo Paxis grunted. “I was merely wondering
whether this half-mouthful of mashed fruit constituted the whole of the
banquet, or was but the first of many and larger courses.”
“One generous helping of usa twice each day,” replied
the old man. “We live well but frugally here, disdaining the unnecessary
and the extravagant. You will find no candied sorapus or roast rump
of zitidar at the table of Varor Otz.”
“Nor will I find a table,” muttered Solo Paxis,
balancing the platter on his knees. His mouth watered at the thought
of cooked flesh and sweetened nutmeats. He sighed, popped the slimy
ball into his mouth and swallowed. The usa was sticky and tasteless.
After dinner Varor Otz repaired to his cart.
There he made a series of adjustments to his instrument tower by means
of an eight-foot spear that had hooks and pincers of various sizes attached
to one end. Solo Paxis sat massaging his swollen right foot, and
staring thoughtfully at the curtain which concealed the underside of the
wagon. At length the old scientist announced that it was time for
bed and set about preparing himself a great soft nest of sleeping silks
and furs in the middle of the wagon. He leaned over the edge of the
cart, his pistol held loosely in one hand, and addressed his guest.
“Sleep soundly and without troubling dreams! And remember: this evening
I have fed you well and threatened your wellbeing with neither poison nor
longsword. Kindly repay me by neither touching nor attempting to
examine the various devices in, under or around my cart at any time.
As a tidbit of unrelated information, I might add that I myself am a light
sleeper and prone to shooting wildly in all directions if suddenly awakened.”
Solo Paxis dismissed the admonition with a sniff of disdain
and turned to prepare his own sleeping quarters. The old man had
vouchsafed him a single ragged fur from his hoard. This Solo Paxis
was obliged to spread out on the springy moss next to the thoat, which
had finally lowered its bulk onto the ground after several minutes of restless
circling at the edge of the encampment. He lay next to the snoring
beast and gazed thoughtfully at the hanging curtain beneath the cart as
the sun slipped below the horizon and darkness spread across the land.
Soon weird shadows danced across the landscape as
the two moons rose and began their hurtling journeys through the sky.
Flirtatious Thuria raced low above the hills while Cluros, her oblivious
husband, plodded drowsily far above.
Contrary to their probable intention, the old man’s
words had only served to fan the spark of curiosity that had been ignited
in Solo Paxis’ brain. Was it something of great value he had glimpsed,
golden and glowing beneath the curtain?
Solo Paxis clamped his eyelids shut and turned to
face the broad, glossy side of the sleeping thoat. Surely it was
wiser to follow his original plan to scoop a few handfuls of the tasteless
fruit mash into his pocket pouch before making his departure on the thoat
in as discreet a manner as possible in the middle of the night? Not
for the first time, prudence and curiosity warred in Solo Paxis’ brain.
The battle raged for some time before reaching its inevitable conclusion,
for it was always curiosity that marshaled the fiercer legions.
Solo Paxis waited until the old scientist was snoring
contentedly in his silks and furs. Creeping to the side of the cart,
he slowly pulled back the hanging.
Beneath the curtain, a weird honeycomb of narrow
metal containers had been fastened to the underside of the wagon.
At their center hung a great glass sphere, connected by a tube running
up the outside of the cart to the cupped metal shield at the top of the
tower. Solo Paxis’ eyes grew wide. The orb was almost filled
with a glowing, honey-colored substance that moved and swam like a mist
of living sunshine. He stared at it, mesmerized, and tried to recall
what the old man had been babbling about. Flying carts and collectors
and planets and the Sun himself? The golden mist was like nothing
he had ever seen before.
The golden glow evoked fond memories of the delicious
honey his mother had fed him when he was a youth. Solo Paxis licked
his lips. Hadn’t there been tales of bees as big as carts in far-off
lands, giant insects soaring through the air? He believed he understood
now why the old man had hidden himself away out here in the middle of a
dead sea bottom. Varor Otz was collecting honey—honey distilled from
the Sun’s own nectar transported down to the surface of Barsoom by honeybees
the size of thoats! His mind reeled at the image. Yet what
other answer could there be? No doubt the creatures mistook the strange
metal cup atop the tower for a great silver flower!
Solo Paxis’ stomach crooned with longing.
The cold mouthful of usa, while adding to the variety of items in his tortured
belly, had done little to calm its complaints and nothing at all to assuage
his hunger. The inviting golden mist swirled and swam. If he
could have just one taste!
Kneeling, he reached out a trembling hand and carefully
removed the tube from the side of the great sphere. Quickly pressing
his own lips to the opening in the orb, he drew a tiny quantity of the
golden mist into his mouth.
The flavor was subtle and unlike anything he had
ever tasted. The inside of his mouth tingled as he took another small
sip, and then a larger one. Each swallow made him long for more.
Solo Paxis consumed draft after draft of the marvelous
Sun honey. Finally sated, he got to his feet and stepped back from
the cart, his eyes closed in dreamy satisfaction. The sweet mist
suffused his entire body with a tingling warmth. He felt reinvigorated
and free of life’s cares. Even his feet felt refreshed, and he was
no longer conscious of the annoying rasp of stiff moss against his bare
He heard the thoat snort as if in its sleep, yet
sounding strangely far away. Solo Paxis felt a twinge of alarm. Could
the beast have wandered off from the encampment? He opened his eyes
and gasped in utter disbelief. He was standing on empty air, a good
ten feet above the ground.
“Help!” he screamed in terror. “Help me!”
He waved his arms and legs, which caused him to spin around in the air
like a loose wagon wheel. His left sandal shot off his foot and struck
the side of the cart just as Varor Otz lifted his great head from his mound
of silks and furs.
“Here, now!” Varor Otz blinked sleepily up at him.
“What are you doing swimming around up there?” The old man snatched
up his pistol and hurried down the rope ladder. His face darkened
with rage as he took in the open curtain and the now half-empty sphere
“Thief! Thief! Come back!” he shouted
as Solo Paxis continued to rotate helplessly above the camp. “You
have stolen the work of two hundred years!” He cocked his head to
one side and peered dumbfounded as Solo Paxis clawed frantically at his
throat and rubbed his swollen belly. “By my First Ancestor!” he cried
in disbelief. “You ingested it?”
“Dinner proved insufficient to my needs,” Solo Paxis
called down with what dignity he could muster, “and I did not wish to intrude
upon your slumber.” He belched loudly.
Varor Otz tugged at his single tuft of grey hair,
deep in thought. “It would seem impossible,” he mused. “You
have swallowed half my store of the concentrated Eighth Ray, yet still
you jabber and exhibit other signs of life. Your stomach must be
lined with iron!”
“On the contrary,” Solo Paxis replied. “It is in
fact filled with quantities of moss and foot leather, as well as a barely
perceptible amount of mashed fruit.” He uttered a sudden strangled
yelp as a small updraft bore him several inches higher into the moonlit
darkness. “Have you any plans to return me to my proper place on
Barsoom before Thuria decapitates me in her passing?”
The old man hefted his hooked spear with a grunt
and clambered back into his cart. After several attempts, he managed
to snag Solo Paxis’ harness and draw him slowly down out of the sky.
Varor Otz descended the ladder with the other man trailing after him like
a wounded bird. Turning Solo Paxis around, he guided his hands to
the railing that ran along the edge of the cart. “Grasp tightly!”
Standing close behind him, the old man grabbed Solo
Paxis about the ribs and proceeded to squeeze with all his might.
When Solo Paxis opened his mouth to protest, a great golden cloud burst
forth from his lips. The sparkling mist rose before his eyes and
dispersed into the night air. At the same time, he felt the ground
begin to press up against the soles of his feet once more.
“I should decapitate you myself for threatening
to destroy the labor of many years.” The old man’s voice quaked with
conflicting emotions. “Yet as a consequence of your duplicity and
greed I have learnt that packing a container with organic materials appears
to greatly magnify the buoyant qualities of the Eighth Ray!”
Solo Paxis paid no attention. The world was
spinning dizzily and his ribs and belly ached. He lowered himself
gently to the ground, alternately clutching his head and his sides while
Varor Otz bustled excitedly about the camp. Strange noises issued
from the wagon as the old man gathered up various items and fed them into
his many machines. Eventually the night grew quiet again.
Solo Paxis roused from his stupor when he heard
a cackling cry of triumph and the creak of wood from somewhere close above
him. He peered up in astonishment to see the cart itself rising rapidly
skyward from the moss. The old man had gathered up the litter of
machinery from the ground and now an even higher tower of metal and sparkling
lights topped the conveyance. Varor Otz appeared to be fashioning
something out of the rope ladder and his sleeping silks and furs, using
the hooked spear to attach them to various places as the cart began to
drift slowly southward.
Solo Paxis leapt to his feet, but the cart was already
above his outstretched arms. “Wait! Wait!” he cried. “You cannot
abandon me here! Is this how I am to be repaid for my recent contributions
to science?” He glanced down as his foot brushed against a few scraps of
leather in the moss. “Aha! Now who is the thief? Having
perverted my own research for your benefit, you have robbed me of my remaining
Varor Otz cupped a wrinkled hand by his mouth.
“You must agree that the motivation behind your experimentation was less
than altruistic,” he called down. “At any rate, you may have the
thoat. Her name is Sunbeam, and she responds well to the hand of
a gentle master.”
Solo Paxis turned a thoughtful eye on the animal,
which had continued to snore peacefully through the night’s excitement.
“This indeed begins to even the score for the loss of my excellent left
sandal,” he called up. “But what shall I live on while you speed
home to fame and fortune? Surely such rare circumstances justify
a final division of your best victuals!”
“Your demands are endless!” Varor Otz complained,
his voice growing fainter as the light-spangled cart continued to drift
away. He paused in his labors and bent down into the wagon.
“Here, then. Feast like a prince!”
Something rolled off the edge of the cart and hurtled
down through the darkness. Striking an outcropping of rock not far
from the sleeping thoat, the wooden cask exploded in a white fountain of
mashed fruit. With a squeal of terror, the animal sprang to her feet
and took off in a mad dash after the floating cart.
Solo Paxis pursued her halfheartedly for a few paces.
He bent over to catch his breath by the shattered cask, his feet sliding
in sticky mush. High above, the old man had succeeded in spreading
a makeshift sail. A strong breeze caught the patchwork of silks and
furs and the wagon floated away like a flashing ember toward the southeast,
Varor Otz waving his hands above his head in a final salute to Solo Paxis.
Soon he and Sunbeam had dwindled to a pair of tiny specks converging on
the far horizon, and then they were both gone, lost in the sunrise.
Solo Paxis surveyed the dead sea bottom with a sigh.
Ocher moss covered the ground for miles in all directions.
Notes on the untranslated words:
1. panthan: traveling mercenary fighter (literally wandering
2. thoat: Barsoomian steed and beast of burden (lit.
carry + I)
3. zitidar: mastodonian draft animal with a penchant
for stampeding (lit. charging + unchanging)
4. jeddak: ruler of a nation, king of kings (lit. kings
5. banth: fearsome Barsoomian predator (lit. roaring)
6. optang: small animal known for inflating its body
when startled (lit. air + fierce)
7. mantalia: “sustenance tree” (lit. sustenance + milk)
8. darseen: small color-changing reptile (lit. changing
9. usa: tasteless, highly nutritious fruit staple (lit.
10. sorapus: “answered prayer”—hardwood tree producing
tasty nuts (lit. answering + to pray)
Solo Paxis translates literally to Maddened by Curiosity.
Varor Otz means Large Brain.
Kwasor Kor is most accurately rendered in English as
IN PART II