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Volume 4846

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


Tars Tarkas art by Paul Privitera

SCENE 4 A POLICE STATION IN HELIUM

(Tars Tarkas, a massive green man, hairless, stalk-eared, pop-eyed, noseless, tusk-mouthed and four armed in the same fashion as Sola, and like her enacted by an actor with appropriate prosthetic puppetry, is discovered stage left behind a dais, flanked by Kantos Kan, a self-important red warrior, and Carthoris, a not-quite-so-self-important not-quite-so-red warrior, in poses of command and belligerence. Behind them Sola is discretely taking notes. Discovered stage right are Ulysses Paxton, on Barsoom known as Vad Varo, Jason Gridley and Harold Shea, three white earthmen in Barsoomian garb (that is, next to nothing), and Jana Gridley and Belphebe Shea, two white earth women, spouses of Jason and Harold, respectively. In appearance the earthmen are handsome, beefy nonentities, aside from Harold, whose eyes are too close-set, nose too long, and build too slender to quite answer that description. Jana is noticeably taller and more robust than Jason and while a stunning beauty, has something of a brow ridge. Belphebe, petite and lithe but nonetheless strong and competent-looking, bears an energetic toddler hight Voglinda, offspring to the Sheas. Jana and Belphebe, also in Barsoomian garb, wear next to nothing much more interestingly than her male counterparts. Voglinda is clad in a baggy tunic too big for her and is covered adequately; her parents may have gone native but after all SOME standards must be maintained. The group of earthlings bear expressions of annoyance, offense and outrage. They are flanked by six Barsoomian policemen, whose distinctive helmets and badges distinguish their harnesses from the standard warrior issue, and bear wicked looking swords. Being bit characters, there is no call to trouble about devising names for them, and they are therefore designated numerically. Sola digs two right elbows into the side of Tars Tarkas, whereupon the pompous old tusker clears his throat and addresses the prisoners.)

Tars: I suppose you are wondering why I have called you all here . . .

Paxton (outraged): Abducted, more like! Now see here, Greeny, I don't ordinarily like to presume on status, but I AM married to a princess--

Sola (sotto voice): --along with half the other soldiers of fortune on Barsoom--

Paxton (ignoring her): --and here on a diplomatic mission to boot. I demand to know what you've done with my wife--HEY!

Policeman 1 (the one who just shoved him): Quiet, you!

Kantos Kan: Vad Varo, your wife, as you so vulgarly term her, is being entertained personally by her highness Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, her old gossip and fast friend, with all the courtesy to which her status and office entitle her. While YOU, you social-climbing, rabble-rousing twerp--

Paxton (protesting): Politicking is not rabble-rousing. I merely share Jasoomian ideas on social reform with those who enquire of such. Half of whom, is seems, are secret informants. (He glances darkly back at Policeman 1, who shakes him roughly by the shoulder.)

Carthoris: That is not what I heard. Are you not responsible for the new regime in Zodanga, which came to power as a result of your otherworldly notions?

Paxton (again protesting): Hey, all I did was advise them in writing their new constitution. It's not my fault they elected that assassin slimeball Ur Jan.

Policeman 1 (again shaking him roughly): That is no way for the likes of you to speak of a head of state, and a Barsoomian!

Carthoris: That's enough, officer. As it happens, his expressed opinion is shared by the government of Helium.

Policeman 1 (coming to attention): Right you are, my lord. Slimeball it is! (Furtively, he treads heavily on Paxton's foot with his own.)

Paxton (with a venomous glance at Policeman 1): Anyway, John Carter himself absolved me of any responsibility for that disaster.

Kantos: A nice point. As Warlord of Barsoom my friend John Carter can, of course, pardon whomever he pleases, but our system here is -- what's that Jasoomian term? -- ah yes, something of a federal one. While his judgment is of course to be accorded due respect, it is not binding on the members of the alliance, each of which has and must follow its own laws. And by the laws of Helium, unsanctioned subversion of a foreign nation is an offense punishable by--

Carthoris: Oh, let's cut to the chase, Kantos Kan. Vad Varo, you are familiar enough with the ways of power to know that offenses are assessed and punishments meted out according to the needs and whims of the powerful. While we would have preferred not to recruit you in such summary fashion--

Kantos (smiling lazily): Speak for yourself, Prince Carthoris. I'm quite enjoying this. And he did, after all, resist.

Tars (elbowed again by Sola, and taking charge): Enough. Vad Varo, you will be satisfied shortly. But before I proceed -- is there anything else anyone wants to say?

Policeman 2 (indicating Paxton): Sir, which indeed is not under white and black, this plaintiff here, the offender, did call me ass: I beseech you, let it be remembered in his punishment.

Tars (sighing through his tusks): Duly noted, officer. But I was referring to the Jasoomians.

Policeman 2: Right. Sorry, sir. (Furtively, he treads heavily on Paxton's other foot.)

Jason: Er, if it please your awesome terribility, I think there must be some mistake. My wife (indicates Jana) and I are here on our second honeymoon as guests of the Varos--

Jana (disdainfully): Which is the least you could do for me, runt, after welshing on your promise to succor your fellow surface man Von Horst and so cheating us out of that grand adventure--

Jason (protesting): I'm sorry, but with you getting pregnant right away and time the way it is in Pellucidar I had to consider our family--

Carthoris (to Jana): I'm sorry, but did you say "surface man?" It seems an odd term, and one I'm not familiar with.

Jana (nodding): I am not, as are these others, of Earth, but from a separate realm inside of it, of which most surface dwellers wot not. This what-not (cuffs the back of Jason's head, half-affectionately) came thereto for the purpose of rescuing another of his ilk, who having established an empire there had, in the fortunes of war, been taken captive by his enemies. Charmed by his personal bravery and gallantry I fell head over heels in love with the heedless witling, only to have him go all gooey and treat me as if I might break like an egg, even though I could snap his wrist like a toothpick if I chose.

Tars: Right, right, noted. Has the witling aught else to get off his chest?

Jason: Well, I would like to know what we're accused of.

Kantos (unrolling a scroll and reciting): Unauthorized astral travel, failing to report to immigration, consorting with a known subversive, striving to introduce alien customs--

Jason: Excuse me? Introducing what?

Kantos (severely): Did you or did you not attempt to lead the spectators at the arena in an undignified up-and-down motion, in which contagion you encouraged adoption by their seated neighbors so that the motion proceeded about the stands, distracting all from the gladiatorial contest enacted below and resulting in the champion being felled by an unexpected blow from the challenger, thus upsetting the expected outcome and interfering with the legitimate business interests of the odds makers by bankrupting the same?

Jason (weakly): Oh, you're talking about the "Gridley Wave?" That was kind of a joke . . .

Kantos (equally severely). Ha. Ha-ha. And now you've had your little joke it's time to pay the penalty.

Tars: Anyone else?

Harold: Um, could anyone explain what this is all about? When Belphebe and I came to your world to rescue our daughter we went through the proper channels, following all the legalities--

Kantos: Ah yes, Mr. Shea, the one who can't count the legs on a thoat to save his life. Your leman here. (Indicates Belphebe.) Did she or did she not interfere with a lawful duel by shooting one of the parties thereunto through with a dart from an iniquitous torsion device, called . . . (searches through his scroll uncertainly.)

Belphebe (helpfully): A Bow. Like unto those your Lotharian phantoms use.

Kantos (icily): Thank you.

Harold (protesting): Hey, she was only trying to save our daughter. Besides, that was in Toonol, the duel was already over, and the other guy lived, so no crime, no foul. Look, your own master scientist, Ras Thavas was there, he can back me up on this--

Kantos: Silence! This is OUR world. WE decide what is lawful and unlawful here.

Paxton (to Harold): Rules. They make 'em, they break 'em.

(Policemen 1 and 2 both raise their feet with which to come down on Paxton's, when interrupted by Tars Tarkas.)

Tars: Stop. I weary of this charade. Jasoomians, the crimes of which you are accused are but a ruse. In truth, you are here because we need your help.

Belphebe: Our help?

Jason: Are you kidding me?

Paxton: Funny way of asking.

Harold: Took the words right out of my mouth.

Jana (frowning): Why didn't you say so? I'm always up for an adventure.

Carthoris (to Kantos): He DID say so, didn't he? Just now?

Kantos (to Tars): What ruse? This is insurance. They decline the quest, they pay the price. Look at them! They're nothing like John Carter! No, I know their type, Tars Tarkas. Weaselly offworlders, always throwing their weight around, not an honorable bone in their bodies.

Carthoris (warningly): Kantos . . .

Kantos (bowing slightly): Present company excepted. YOU'RE one of us. Well, half one of us. THIS lot wouldn't lift a finger for one of their own.

Jason: Who says? I'd never even have gone to Pellucidar if I was like that!

Jana: Hate to say it, but the cute little runt's right.

Belphebe (dangerously): I've as much honor as the purest paladin, and I'll prove it on the body of he who doubts it.

Harold: So what do you need? And what's in it for us?

(Everyone looks at him oddly.)

Kantos: Aha!

Voglinda (reprovingly): Da-da!

Harold (uncomfortably): Hey, a man's got to think of his family. I just want to know where we stand. As Mr. Paxton -- sorry, Varo, said, we're not exactly here by request. Who's to say once we do this thing for you, WHATEVER it is, you won't turn right around and coerce us into something else?

Kantos (pompously): I'M to say. You have the word of Kantos Kan.

Harold: What's that mean, exactly?

Kantos (suddenly angry, whipping out his sword): You dare?

Harold (backing up): Hey, easy with that thing. It's not as if you left me mine, and don't you claim to be the stickler for honorable combat? I'm just asking. I don't know you from a hole in a wall.

Carthoris: Put that down before you hurt someone, Kantos. (Looks at Tars.) Cards on the table, as Dad would say?

Tars (glancing at Sola, who nods): Know, O Jasoomians, that lord John Carter has disappeared. You are summoned at the bidding of Princess Dejah Thoris herself to find him, or word of him, and if possible bring him safely home.

Kantos (sotto voice): Like we need them. I still say we should just do it ourselves.

Carthoris: Dead giveaway. That would tip off the assassins.

Paxton: The who?

Carthoris: Assassins. They've got him. We think.

Paxton: Right. I'm in.

Jason: Me too.

Jana: You'd BETTER be.

Belphebe: And we, by my troth!

Harold: Hold on, hold on! What's the plan? What have we got to work with? And who's going to look after Voglinda?

(Everyone looks at him.)

Harold: What, am I the only practical person here?

(The lights fade.)

BACK TO THEATRE LOBBY
 


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