SCENE 8 — DEJAH THORIS’S CHAMBERS, THE ROYAL PALACE, HELIUM
(Enter Dejah Thoris, attended by Sola. Neither are any more fully clad than in their previous appearances.)
Dejah: I must make ready, Sola. My chieftain has finally returned triumphant, and will expect nothing less than a proper welcome before his next excursion, particularly as he has been in durance vile so long.
Sola: Indeed, mistress, the news has been bandied about from the Processional Way to the Grand Canal. Dotar Sojat, lord of all, victorious! Ur Jan, Guildmaster of the Zodangan Guild of Assassins, doomed! Four new placemen to find places for! What were their names again?
(Dejah Thoris withdraws a small scroll from between her perfect breasts, or as the official Barsoomian chronicler would have it, “charms.” She unfurls it and peers at it for a moment.)
Dejah: Ledin Nogin, Mun Yunet, Slidhi Tov, and a certain “Toog,” it seems. The first has been tapped to be a sweeper of the lower halls. The second might do as an assistant to Ras Thavas in some of his grislier experiments, at least as far as disposal of the more distasteful detritus goes. As for the ex-Assassin, he has requested a place in the Imperial Guard’s Anti-Inhumation Unit. I see no objection to this being done. You may convey my assent to the appointments to my august sire.
Sola (bowing slightly and intoning ceremoniously): His impressive flummery the dread Jed Mors Kajak shall be so informed. And the fourth?
Dejah: My much esteemed husband has reportedly recommended that Toog be given a position as a strong man in something called a “sur kus.” Have you any notion what a “sur kus” might be, Sola?
Sola: I have heard the inestimable Dotar Sojat use the term, O mistress. I believe he likened the arena in Warhoon to some such thing.
Dejah (constricting her brow): That sounds not right. Pray enquire discretely of his fellow Jasoomian, the pensionary Vad Varo, as to the proper construance and construction to be placed upon the words. If there be no existing Barsoomian equivalent, perhaps some such “sur kus” can be established.
Sola: I hear and obey, Mistress.
Dejah (irritably): I weary of these trifles. Where is my chieftain, by the moons? He has been off on this latest loon far too long!
Sola: “Loon,” my lady?
Dejah (explaining): A characterization given my husband’s whimsies by one of the many would-be chroniclers on Jasoom who have vied to succeed his nephew—I believe the name was “Alsprag Dakamp,” or something like. An apt description, don’t you think?
Sola (noncommittal): As my mistress pleases. Your lord is expected momentarily, your momentousness. I will take my leave, for I know how these reunions transpire. You will wish privacy, of course. Shall I prepare the incubator, in the event that an egg results?
Dejah (somewhat severely): That will do, Sola.
Sola (repetitively): As my mistress wishes. Hark! My Thark ears hear the sounds of your lord’s approach within. I withdraw.
(We hear the sounds of John Carter’s approach within as Sola withdraws.)
(Enter John Carter, now much cleaner and with hair much shorter, albeit appearing as if some person utterly unskilled in such matters has taken a hacksaw to it. His sword belt is distinctively clunky. Dejah Thoris flies toward him, only to be brought up short in dismay by his appearance.)
Dejah (gasping): By the Iss, husband! What is this? Wherefore have you shaven your head?
Carter (smiling): Please! I prefer to regard it as “closely cropped.”
Dejah: That it may be, but it is certainly MORE closely cropped than it has ever been before. What is it “closely cropped” WITH, a two-by-four?
Carter (coloring and glancing at his sword belt): Well . . .
Dejah: No matter! Again I ask you: why?
Carter: It befell thus. As you are aware, my last adventure, or “loon,” as a certain upstart chronicler who is by no means related to me would have it, occupied more time than the regulation month or so, including an unprecedented three full weeks of incarceration. Why, I could have learned at least two new languages in that amount of time, after the accustomed fashion of incarcerated heroes, were there any new languages on Barsoom to learn!
Dejah (less than patiently): No doubt, husband, your brilliance being unquestionable. But I presume you meander towards some point in your tale?
Carter (expansively): Indeed. Due to the unlooked-for duration of my jaunt, my hair lengthened, yea, even down to the middle of my neck, and became sweaty and uncomfortable besides. Moreover, my cell-mates’ heads were infested with Barsoomian lice, which, as we possessed but a single comb to share among us, proved diligent in their exploration of new territory. As it happens, Barsoomian lice are in the possession of no less than sixteen legs, rendering them greatly more pestiferous than the Jasoomian variety.
Dejah: A fact with which I am acquainted, you may be sure, but we have effective oils and ointments for the remediation of such, which I understand were procured for you and applied to your poor abused scalp upon your welcome if postponed return. There was no need therefore to shave your head.
Carter: On that account, you are correct. But on perceiving myself in a reflecting surface after, I observed that I had come to resemble some of my less appearance-conscious fellow officers in the late rancor between the states in the country and planet of my origin, an unpleasantness highly distasteful to any decent regard to the rightness of things. Rather than risk such a thing occurring a second time, I determined to take preventive measures against such an eventuality before flying off to the polar regions to hunt the savage Apt. Hence my present appearance.
Dejah (dismayed): What? That ill-considered slaughtering expedition is still on? I anticipated we would share a ten-night together at the least . . .
Carter (soothingly): I know, my dear, but the Apt season is so brief, and my sojourn beneath Zodanga so long, and as for disappointing Kantos Kan, I can’t now, can I?
Dejah (petulantly, a dangerous glint in her eye): Just ME, is that the nub of it?
Carter (nonplussed): Um . . .
Dejah: Why took you so long? Are you not in and out of dungeons in some time-forgotten city or other all the time? You have been intellectually lazy again, haven’t you?
Carter (repetitively): Um . . .
Dejah (sighing): Just as I thought. Have you any notion the trouble I was put to in order to discretely have a posse of your fellow Jasoomians dispatched to retrieve you?
Carter (uncomfortably): Aw, I was doing all right.
Dejah: 'Tis not what I heard. (As if struck by a thought:) What became of the Jasoomians, by the way? I speak not of that riff-raff surgeon Vad Varo, to whom I know his Valla Dia hath lately flown. But the others, I understand, include some truly unique individuals.
Carter (relieved): Oh, the Sheas, once they had recovered their child, departed forthwith, the husband muttering something about "seeing things" and "needing a shrink." The manner seemed much akin to traditional astral projection, though they characterized it as some sort of invisible symbolic logic vehicle. I would have been pleased to introduce them to you, save a dispute arose on the subject of beauty, I of course maintaining that yours be acknowledged as incomparable, while Harold upheld the qualities of his own bride. For some reason he was disinclined to take up my offer to settle the matter over a couple of swords. He appeared to believe he must either lose his life to my superior swordplay or, should he concede, be faced with the ire of his wife, a prospect he appeared to dread rather more. Moreover, he contended that any such admission must necessarily be a prevarication, since he had never had the honor of laying eyes on you to compare--
Dejah: Then wherefore lingered he not to so settle the issue?
Carter (shrugging): Much the same reason as that first advanced. Did he judge you the more beauteous he would be in trouble with his better half, and did he hold to his original opinion he must inevitably be skewered in my defense of your glory.
Dejah: A wight most ungallant and craven, I perceive.
Carter (shrugging again): As best I could determine he did not lack for courage. He called it "being practical," though I must confess it somehow appears to amount to the same thing.
Dejah (suddenly arch): And how DID this "Belphebe" compare?
Carter (hasty, slightly nervous): Oh, she was winsome enough in an athletic, greyhoundish sort of way. All straight lines, no curves. No match for you, of course. At all. Really.
Dejah: What is a greyhound--? Never mind. Some monstrous Jasoomian creature, no doubt. What of the others, the radio engineer and his troglodyte?
Carter: Oh, Gridley was already in trouble with HIS wife, but I suspect he apprehended the same problem. What they said, though, was that they were behind schedule in their tour of Barsoom, and wished to proceed directly to Ptarth. The Varos are to catch up with them in Gathol. I offered to conduct them personally to the north pole and show them the hunting, but peculiarly they appeared to regard the prospect of an extended acquaintance with Kantos Kan disagreeable.
Dejah (pouting): I never get to meet any of your friends. (Looking him over again, with particular attention to his head): So! All this came of one glimpse in the mirror?
Carter (off balance again): Aye.
Dejah (silkily): And have you regarded yourself therein since this sudden brainstorm?
Carter (weakly): Um. As a matter of fact, no.
Dejah (suddenly firm): I would you would do so.
Carter (hastily): You would? Well, I would not deny you. Very well. (Does so.) Yikes! By the dead sea bottoms!
Dejah (quite firmly): By the dead sea bottoms in the wake of being cropped by a herd of thoats and a legion of zitidars, indeed.
Carter (uncertainly): But it will grow out. It’s all part of the plan.
Dejah (unimpressed): I ordinarily possess a high regard for your planning, however much it fails of realization in the ordinary course of overly-coincidental plot development. Regardless of that, your hair growing out is a development I fervently count upon. And now, farewell.
Carter (dismayed): What? But I am not ready to go yet.
Dejah: Not you, husband, me. I go to fetch the Thern wig you brought home as a trophy some years agone, which I mean to have died a suitable black for you.
Carter: A Thern wig? Have you taken leave of your senses? Remember you not the exaggerated length of falsified hair those false priests favored?
Dejah (unconcerned): You are quite at liberty to crop it as closely as you wish, within the bounds of your ordinary prescription.
Carter: But there is no time! I leave with Kantos Kan for the pole within the hour, and did not you and I intend a lusty snuggle within our sleeping silks and furs ere my departure, that you might see your chieftain off in proper style?
Dejah: We did, but not with you as bald as an accursed Thern or some green nomad just in from the sticks! The memories the sight does return to the forefront of my thoughts crawl up my spine with many legs, and are ill conducive to amorous regard.
Carter (wheedling): But Dejah—
Dejah: I fear you must bank your desire and let it smolder unfueled until our celebration of your next homecoming. Perhaps at the end of this new loon of yours, when your hair has once again achieved a decent length, I may feel myself more in the mood. Go then, and murder your silly Apt! But first — hand over that ill-omened razor, or whatever you used to butcher your scalp! Henceforth such shall be banned from your presence!
Carter (meekly): Yes, dear.
(John Carter unhooks his sword belt, from which is suspended the two-by-four. Taking it, Dejah Thoris points imperiously in the direction whence he entered, and Carter slinks dejectedly off.)
Carter (grumbling under his breath): Tarl Cabot never has to put up with this shit. . .
(Exit John Carter. Spotlight on Dejah Thoris, who pauses to regard the two-by-four for a moment, then casually discards it. She stretches interestingly, languidly examines her nails, and retires to a divan.)
Dejah (mumbling): Idiot! What must I do to get some proper attention around here? Have myself kidnapped again? (Considers.) No, my witless chieftain will not be fit to be seen, much less be worthy of my company, far longer than a rescue might be expected to take. Small point in enduring a fate worse than death while waiting for him to make himself presentable.
(Dejah Thoris drums her fingers on the arm of the divan for several tals.)
Dejah (raising voice): Sola!
Sola’s voice (heard from within): Mistress?
Dejah: Is the royal portraitist on the premises?
Sola’s voice (heard from within): Which, my lady? Do you refer to the storied limner Jaealon Sunjin, or the matchless dauber Fro Zuttah?
Dejah (considering): The latter, I think, for he flatters my waistline. Send him in forthwith. As my day is wasted already, I may as well waste the remains of the day with a sitting. Let me see, what was that pose? (Strikes an iconic Frank Frazetta pose.) No, that wasn’t it. (Flops down on the divan again.)
BACK TO THEATRE LOBBY
||4. A Police Station in Helium|
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