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Volume 4843

Hair and the Heroes: Barsoom
THE PRISONER OF ZODANGA
or, A Doom With a View:
a Hair-Raising Tale in Eight Scenes
by Brian Kunde

Dramatis personæ (in order of appearance):

• John Carter, Prince of Helium and Warlord of Barsoom, an Earthman resident on Mars.
• Ur Jan, Chief of the Assassins’ Guild in Zodanga.
• Assassins 1-8, members of the Assassins’ Guild in Zodanga, essentially sword-fodder.
• Various assassins, ditto.
• Ledin Nogin, dim-witted citizen of Zodanga, a prisoner of the Assassins’ Guild.
• Mun Yunet, a pessimistic and cannibally-inclined prisoner of the Assassins’ Guild.
• Slidhi Tov, failed former member of the Assassins’ Guild, a prisoner of same.
• Various ulsios, Martian vermin infesting the dungeon of the Assassins’ Guild.
• Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, wedded to John Carter.
• Sola, a green woman of Thark, attendant on Dejah Thoris.
• Klapmin Kajez, a jailer, keeper of the dungeon incarcerating the prisoners of the Assassins’ Guild.
• Tars Tarkas, a green man, Jeddak of Thark and father of Sola.
• Kantos Kan, a warrior of Helium.
• Carthoris, Prince of Helium, son to John Carter and Dejah Thoris.
• Ulysses Paxton, alias Vad Varo, an Earthman resident on Mars.
• Jason Gridley, an Earthman visiting Mars.
• Jana Gridley, a Pellucidarian woman visiting Mars, mate to Jason Gridley.
• Harold Shea, an Earthman visiting Mars.
• Belphebe Shea, a woman of Faerie visiting Mars, wife to Harold Shea.
• Voglinda Shea, an Earthly toddler visiting Mars, daughter to Harold and Belphebe Shea.
• Policemen 1-2, peace officers of Helium, bit players.
• Policemen 3-6, ditto, and nonspeaking to boot.
• Toog, an unassuming cretin supplying food to the prisoners of the Assassins’ Guild.
• Assassin 9 (Snifin Snival), member of the Assassins' Guild in Zodanga, more sword-fodder. 
• Assassin 10 (Park Karkas), member of the Assassins' Guild in Zodanga, yet more sword-fodder. 
• Assassins 11-13, members of the Assassins' Guild in Zodanga, yes, these three as well.

John Carter: Assassins of Mars art by Paul Privitera

SCENE 1 — A DARK STREET IN ZODANGA

(Dim the lights. John Carter is discovered sneaking with drawn sword through the dark streets of Zodanga, a futuristic yet decrepit city. His hair is close-cropped, and a well-nigh invisible wire extends upward from his harness.)

Carter (perceiving audience): Shh! Be very, very quiet. I’m hunting assassins.

(As he speaks, enter a large number of naked red men festooned with weapon harnesses, the slim, quite un-concealing straps of which are died black for camouflage in the darkness. There are about forty-five of them, or, if so many cannot be accommodated, as many as the establishment CAN accommodate. Being sword-fodder, there is no call to trouble about devising names for their characters, and those with speaking parts are therefore designated numerically. They gather from stage left, stage right, backstage, and the orchestra pit. A forty-sixth, Ur Jan, distinguished from the others by his large size and strutting, sneering demeanor, hangs back a bit, leading from the rear.)

Carter (pausing, uncertain): I thought I saw some assassins.

Assassin 1 (whispering — in a stage whisper, of course): You couldn’t have. We’re wearing black.

Carter: Oh. Right, then. My mistake. (Resumes sneaking.)

Ur Jan (loudly): Jump him!

(The assassins converge. Carter leaps straight up into the air by the agency of his earthly muscles, not to mention the well-nigh invisible wire standing in for them.)

Ur Jan (with an air of inspiration): Points up!

(The congregated assassins lift their swords high as Carter slowly begins to descend in Mars’s attenuated gravity. Tucking his knees into his chest, Carter extends his own weapon downward and waves it around a bit, or rather, weaves an impenetrable barrier of flashing steel between him and his foes. The assassins’ swords naturally go flying, and Carter lands on his feet within their midst, still wiggling the sword, which in fact he continues to do through the whole fight following, occasionally downing additional random assassins. Usually those who attempt to fight and talk at the same time.)

Ur Jan: Get him, you nincompoops!

Assassin 1: We’re trying, O Guildmaster Ur Jan! But he IS the best swordsman on two worlds, after all!

Carter: Three; I’ve been to Sasoom as well. Four, if you want to count Thuria, the greater moon.

Ur Jan (savagely): I don’t want to count Thuria! I hate Thuria! No one remind me of Thuria!

Carter (innocently): Why shouldn’t I remind you of Thuria, Ur Jan? Didn’t you like it there?

Ur Jan: Arrrggghhh! Riches to whoever brings him down!

Assassin 1 (run through): Augh! He got me!

Assassin 2 (ditto): Augh! Me too! How does he DO it?

Carter (helpfully): You keep trying to fight and speak at the same time. It’s a deadly combination for a Barsoomian. Beyond that, a combination of earthly muscles, unearthly speed, and the helpful fact that none of you twerps have ever heard of shields.

Assassin 3: What’s a shield? It sounds dishonorable.

Carter: Like knifing people in their bedchambers in the middle of the night IS? You people sicken me! I’m going to stamp you out, like I did before.

Assassin 3: Like you did when? (Carter runs him through.) Augh!

Ur Jan: We had a deal! I swear fealty to you, you leave me alone. Is this leaving me alone?

Carter: Part of the deal was you were to stop sending your henchmen out to kill people. You didn’t. Ergo. . .

Ur Jan: I don’t know what “ergo” means, but no honorable Barsoomian would stop killing people merely on another’s dishonorable say so. Such an insult to our honor is an offense against honor, and on our honor we can’t in honor honor it, your honor.

Carter: I’m afraid you lost me, there.

Ur Jan (patiently): Honor.

Carter: Oh, right. Well, on Jasoom we have a different idea of honor. It involves keeping our promises, making our word our bond, and at least in the region I come from, pistol-duels at ten paces against anyone who dares question our word. It’s so much more civilized.

Assassin 4: Jasoomians duel with firearms? Reducing a glorious contest of skill in bladed weaponry down to an ignominious competition of mere aiming? Barbaric!

Carter: Aiming takes skill too, when you don’t have radar sights. Your argument hasn’t a leg to stand on. (Cuts Assassin 4’s legs out from under him.)

Assassin 4: Augh!

Ur Jan (offended): You are mistaken, sir! There is no comparison between the venerable, time-honored custom of face-to-face personal combat and the anonymous pocking away at foemen with radium weapons. Only a Green Man taking pot-shots at a flier would argue otherwise!

Carter: I'm an honorary Thark. Does that count?

Ur Jan (roaring): You are evading the issue! You cannot equate murder by musketry with a societally-condoned fight by the blade! We assassins play FAIR!

Assassin 5: Even when we knife a slumbering Jeddak in his sleeping silks and furs, O Guildmaster? Augh! (Falls.)

Ur Jan (miffed): It’s the principle of the thing.

Carter: Principle, shminciple! You’re going down! Give it up, O guild! You’re a mere forty to my one! I have you outnumbered!

Ur Jan (confused): Now you’ve lost ME. Is this Jasoomian mathematics?

Carter (explaining): I shall end your killing spree!

Ur Jan (recovering, scoffingly): What, with your own? How can you put on airs and speak as if you’re above us, O Warlord, when you do the same thing?

Carter: Because I’m the Warlord, naturally! Overlord of all Barsoom, save that insignificant and therefore discountable large majority of states which happen to be lost cities. Don’t you understand that effective rule by the state requires a monopoly of force?

Ur Jan: The concept is new to me, but if it’s MY monopoly I’m all for it. I shall certainly see that you never achieve such a thing!

Assassin 6 (run through): Augh! Don’t be so sure of that, O Guildmaster! (Falls.)

Ur Jan: Enough of this bandying of words! Our killing sprees are more righteous than your killing sprees! And if I have to kill you to prove it, I will!

Carter: Au contraire, Ur Jan. There is a vast gulf between a proper authority who kills for free and an assassin who prostitutes himself by killing for profit. And as for the pimp who controls the prostitutes—

Ur Jan (disbelieving): You call me a pimp?

Assassins (in anguished chorus): He’s calling us prostitutes!

Carter: Well, if the shoe fits—

Assassin 7: What’s a shoe—Augh! (Falls.)

Carter: It’s a kind of sandal. Now, As I was saying—

Assassins (in chorus): A dishonorable murderer, calling honorable assassins prostitutes!

Ur Jan: And an honorable Guildmaster a pimp!

Assassins (in chorus): Stone the unbeliever! (As one, they drop their swords and take up paving stones. Don’t worry, they’re Styrofoam.)

Carter (suddenly uncertain): Um—

(The assassins let fly. Carter falls.)

Ur Jan (dubiously): Not entirely honorable, perhaps.

Assassin 8: It worked, though, O Guildmaster.

Ur Jan (his face clearing): There is that.

(The remaining assassins take up Carter’s unconscious body. Exeunt, under the direction of Ur Jan.)

THE PRISONER OF ZODANGA by Brian Kunde
ERBzine 4843
ERBzine 4844
ERBzine 4845
ERBzine 4846
1. A Dark Street In Zodanga
2. Dejah Thoris's Chambers, The Royal Palace, Helium
3. A Zodangan Dungeon
 4. A Police Station in Helium
. . . .
ERBzine 4847
ERBzine 4848
ERBzine 4849
ERBzine 4850
5. The Same 
Zodangan Dungeon
6. A Dead Sea Bottom
Near Zodanga
7. A Street In 
Zodanga
8. Dejah Thoris's 
Chambers


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