It was a hot and sticky night. I lay atop the cool linen sheets
of my bed, sweat trickling down the sides of my body. The cat was stretched
out on the sill of the open window next to the bed. The city hummed benignly
around me, and small insects trilled in the stillness. Too hot to sleep,
I forced myself to my feet and entering the bathroom I soaked a facecloth
with cold water from the tap. I wiped my face and then squeezed out the
water over my hair, the little rivulets sliding down over my sunburnt shoulders.
A long bicycle ride that afternoon failed to exhaust me.
I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my back, or rather I didn't have
anyone to do it for me. The burned skin was taut across my back. Minus
the pain and I would have enjoyed the sensation.
I breathed deeply and looked about me. Too restless to sit idle, I thought.
I donned a pair of shorts and sandals, and walked out into the thick
night air. Not a breeze anywhere. I seemed to be the only one awake in
the neighbourhood tonight. No lights illuminated the old wood houses. The
large birch and oak trees stood motionless. The moon cast strong shadows
and light into the bushes and hidden recesses of the picket fenced yards.
The neatly trimmed lawns edged onto an old and cracked sidewalk narrower,
and with more charm, than any suburban boulevard. Cars, some large and
practical for growing families, others small, fast, and selfish for the
overtly unattached, lined both sides of the worn asphalt street.
The park lay in front of me and I found my cat following close behind.
I glanced at the phosphorescent dial of my watch. 3 a.m.
Two weeks holiday left.
Leave of absence.
I wanted to chuck it all, and I was afraid of the emotion in me. I had
spent years getting where I was, yet I was not happy with my achievements.
I had spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about my career
and my life because of it. I had come to the inescapable conclusion that
I had been happier with the impossible dream in front of me rather than
having it in my hands. It's a hard lesson to learn that you like the challenge
more than the accomplishment.
I didn't know what the heck I was going to do about it. I was just depressed
and I didn't want to go back to work in that couple of weeks.
I took off the sandals and walked barefoot through the cool grass. The
trees were thick around me, their branches draping gracefully across the
path. Small coloured lights flooded their canopy, giving them a life unknown
in the day. A beautiful fountain was lit up at the centre of the park.
As we approached it, a welcome, cool mist enveloped us. A wide marble
lip encircled the bubbling water. The cat hopped up beside me as I sat
One day while I sat in the park near this very fountain, I had heard
two art students from up the hill decry its sculptural merits. Garish,
kitsch, plebeian, had been the conclusion they had reached. Tonight, I
sat there, knowing what had made them say that because I had been there
once, but not letting it affect me in the least. The cherubs and the Rubenesque
women and the water flowing from them, down miniature waterfalls, splashing
onto cold stone fish held only familiarity for me now. It had been built
at the turn of the century when this city was an infant, still imitating
its worldly European siblings. The builders of this park were trying to
bring some class to a rough western town. Looking up at the stained marble
faces the only feeling I had was one of history and perhaps nostalgia.
I lay down on the lip and let my hand slip into the water, letting the
gentle action of the water's movement rock it. My eyes wandered the crystal-clear
night sky. Pegasus. Andromeda. Cassiopeia.
They were ethereal friends in the heavens looking down upon where they
had once walked. And like an angry eye, Mars stared bloodily over the horizon.
I remembered the books I had not read in years and smiled.
John Carter of Mars.
Carter had been one of my heroes, along with a score of others. He had
arrived there with no thing but what he had been born with, and had taken
a harsh world by storm, wresting triumph after triumph in a life filled
How real it had all seemed, but eventually that phase of growing up
passes you, and the heroes you emulate as a boy give way to the reality
of what it really means to be a man. A part of me, though, still wanted
to be the adventurer king, defeating villains and always getting the girl
in the end.
Fantasy had given way to reality, and a love of the space program and
our universe forever ended any romantic notion of scantily clad red women
waiting for me on the plains of Mars.
Mariner 9, the Viking missions, and Pathfinder had given us a clear
picture of the scarred, dead planet.
Tonight, feeling small and alone, I was a child again. Being the adult
I had become collapsed about me.
Mars... if only it could be real.
My eyes had been watching the luminescent lap, lap, lapping water at
the fountain's edge. I suddenly felt drowsy, and perhaps if I walked home
now I could fall asleep. My legs felt strangely weak for one so used to
exercise. I must have pushed it too hard on the bike path, I thought. I
forced myself to my feet, taking a deep breath of air. I tipped my head
back to look up at the stars once again.
A meteor shower skittered across the Earth's atmosphere, sparks of colour
peppering the moment, but one speck grew brighter... and larger! The cat
saw it too. He hissed and hopped down under the fountain and I followed
suit. It was the only thing that could offer us any hope for protection.
Closer and closer the fiery ball... er... wait a minute.
It had ceased to glow. A bright, silvery canister attached to a parachute
floated to a soft landing on the vast lawn of the park. The parachute billowed
gently and draped the object.
I crawled out from under the fountain and walked cautiously to the thing.
The parachute was large, perhaps 12 metres in diameter and decorated with
many strange and unusual scenes of men, beasts, and vistas not of this
I dragged it back to reveal the object.
It was no canister. About 6 metres long, constructed of some beautiful
silver metal, it reflected light in a soft diffused manner not unlike polished
aluminium. Its bow was a window array similar to a B-17's nose. Sleek lines
tapered back into many fins that terminated at the stern. Its belly was
also many radiated fins. There were three props. The largest at the tail
was the main means of propulsion. A rudder was placed directly behind this
for steering, and was attached like a c-clamp to the top and bottom of
the propeller housing. The other two props were attached to short booms
that extended from the sides of the craft.
I had no doubt that it was an airship, perhaps even a spaceship, but
the props would be nearly useless in space. They were only good for inertial
turning in the vacuum. The ship stood a little less than 2 metres tall
and I looked for a way to clamber up (being only 1.75 metres tall myself),
and then I noticed foot holds set into the hull. There was a single hatch
just behind the nose bubble, on the top of the ship. A rotating switch
inset in the hull released the catch and with a small hiss the hatch irised
I dropped lightly into the cockpit. The hatch closed automatically behind
me. Nothing buzzed or hummed here in the stillness. The air in the cabin
was stale and devoid of odour. Fine dust reflected in the green light.
In the nose bubble two well-padded leather seats waited for pilots. Soft
illumination came from pelletlike lights all around me. On the right seat
I found a large sack filled with my wildest dreams and the reason why I
tell you my strange tale now.
The controls were labelled in English and some other strange language
that I had never seen. I tentatively activated the more mundane of them
before I tried the ones with almost unbelievable functions attached to
It had been short work to render the ship invisible and hovering a metre
off the ground. Once I had overcome its inertia, dragging the thing home
to put it in the backyard was easy. It was a stroke of luck that no one
saw me walking down my back alley guiding nothing with effort.
I looked like a demented mime.
I really hate mimes.
The cat kept darting between my legs, meowing at my strange behaviour.
...Hi, this is Chester Ventura. I know I promised to take new assignments
in mid-August, but I've decided to take a longer sabbatical from the drawing
board. I'll be out of the country for the near future, and any business
enquiries can be directed to my competitors. Thanks.
I slid into the soft leather of the pilot's seat. My co-pilot scratched
at his new gem studded leather collar with a determined hind leg.
The systems panel was suspended over my head. My finger touched the
main power switch.
Immediately, the small green lights set in every gauge and control lit
up. The ship made no sound whatsoever. I ran my fingers over the engine
switch. The only thing that reached my ears was a faint hisssss...
The past few weeks had swept by. The morning after my discovery, I did
my best to remain calm and went through my morning ritual of calisthenics,
martial arts forms, and a cool shower. Walking down the hall to the living
room, I laid out the contents on the hardwood floor. No, I had not been
dreaming the night before. I was still spellbound by the magic illuminated
in the soft morning light.
...All systems checked out. Powered by an atomic motor, the fuel would
last for many hundreds of years. Well, I was not like my two earthly predecessors.
I only had a lifespan of eighty years or so. In other words, I never had
to worry about running out of gas.
In between my seat and the cat's were all the gauges this ship had had
originally. Atmosphere capacity, fuel level, speedometer, interior and
exterior temperature, altimeter, and air pressure. These were angled and
inset into the panel so that the pilot could easily glance at them without
distracting them completely from flying the ship. To my left was the new
warning indicator panel. All the ship 's systems were wired into these
all-important monitors. Their lights all gave a comforting green glow,
but yellow lights, now off, would flash at me during a crisis.
A final check: air lock, invisibility screen.
Yes, all were a-ok...
The leather harness was inset with beautiful metals and priceless gems,
and its metal chestplate had a crest (a royal standard?) etched delicately
into it. A blood red ball of a gem that bespoke of fierce Mars was a centrepiece.
While it was made of strong supple leather it was not a warrior's harness.
Too bright. Too fancy. It was meant for court life.
The sword was a beautiful thing to hold. Light and well balanced it
had a weighted tip. This confirmed the descriptions of the Martians. They
were lithe and agile, consummate swordsmen, not axe-wielding barbarians.
The weighted tip gave them added power so as to make large muscular development
A short sword and dagger were of similar construction, the dagger balanced
for throwing. Yet, I did not get a thrill from possessing these. It was
the 1990's, I did not fence, and swords are all to rare on the streets
of your average city.
Not that guns are all that common either, but I was familiar with pistols
and rifles. I am not one to brag but I was a fair shot, better than some,
worse than others.
The radium pistol was as fine a weapon as I had ever seen. Even though
it was built for a right-handed person, the balance was perfect in my left.
I could not use the holster though, it could only be used on my right hip,
but this was a small problem.
And then I found the pouch with the letter in it.
...The most important thing we added was a brand new multi-processor
computer server. On its hard drive array we loaded star charts, solar system
simulations, and navigation programs. We linked radar into it. It would
display on the computer's monitor. It wasn't quite up to NASA standards,
but a little common sense applied to the data it gave me would get me where
I was going without smacking into a moon, or missing the target altogether.
There was also an extensive database on the solar system. Everything I
could find on it went into the files. That and other information was stored
on CD-ROM. In my gear was a PowerBook laptop computer as well.
Next were the three two-way radios, each covering a different piece
of the airwaves. I set one for the police band, and another for the Airport
The last major addition was a car stereo. It had a CD player and an
AM/FM radio. We installed twelve speakers around the ship's interior.
I constantly wondered what was keeping me together. I was a madman with
True, I had my private pilot's license, but there was an incredible
difference between flying around the area on a Saturday afternoon and flying
a rocket to Mars. I kept my panic down with the plans for the voyage. And
with the panic came delicious excitement in equal quantity. I had been
floundering for months, and maybe this insane path held something for me.
My brother has always been the more practical of the two of us, and
he kept things level and calm. I would tell him what I needed and he'd
figure out where to put it in, utilising his vast knowledge of electronic
systems to adapt and integrate our systems to the alien technology.
For many years we had not been close. We had grown up two very different
people in two worlds of our own. Even now, my head was in the stars, and
his was down to Earth, level with the horizon. Night after night we sweated
through the hot summer together. Perhaps he too was conscious of the years
that had passed between us meaninglessly, but it wasn't his way to bring
it out into the open. And it wouldn't have helped for me to upset the good
work we were accomplishing, both for the ship and for our relationship,
so I shut up for the first time in my life and enjoyed being near him.
Towards the end of the modifications we talked less and less of my planned
trip. It was as if a wall had arisen between us. I hadn't thought that
it would be hard to say 'good-bye', because for all I knew, this might
be the last time we ever saw each other. He suggested, and I agreed with,
a test flight of the strange craft. So in the still hours of after midnight
we powered it up and floated out of my back yard.
The flight controls were almost exactly the same as the small planes
that I had flown, but they had their own idiosyncrasies, and it took the
better part of an hour flying slowly over the city before I felt comfortable
with my control of it. During this time my brother checked the monitor
systems. Our radar functioned perfectly, showing regular traffic around
the airport in the northeast. Neither of us knew whether the invisibility
screen would shield us from the control tower's own radar. If the screen
only bent light, the radar would still detect our mass.
It turned out to be more sophisticated than that, because no queries
or warnings were heard on the tower frequencies. That was one hassle avoided.
He told me that all systems were functioning properly and we proceeded
to the second stage of testing.
I opened the throttle and lifted the ship's nose. We rose steadily for
many minutes, and at 15000 metres we levelled off. My brother adjusted
the radar to long-range and I accelerated the ship. As our speed increased
the ship became much easier to handle. We cut through the clouds like a
hot knife through butter, and my brother watched the airspeed indicator.
"Okay, here it comes," he said, "brace yourself."
"Right," I replied simply.
"In... three, two, one... mark!"
BOOM! A small shudder rippled through the cabin. We had passed the sound
My brother asked how the ship was handling.
Beautifully, I had replied.
For a number of minutes we picked up speed, eventually reaching a staggering
top speed close to 4000 km/h. We cruised high over Canada and the North
Atlantic. The clouds cleared away and we had a clear view to the horizon.
We were both awed with the sight of the sunrise flaring, and before we
had a chance to react we were in daylight. To our surprise, the glass in
the nose cone tinted and dimmed the bright light streaming into the cabin.
The beauty, however, was not diminished in the slightest, and a flood of
emotion helped me to remember how much I loved the planet of my birth.
In that moment I almost chucked my plans to try for Mars, but in the
end, my determination for adventure won out.
Presently, we were over Europe, and I cut the throttle and reversed
thrust to slow us down. We descended and flew over Rome. It was late morning
and the streets were filled to capacity with cars and thousands of milling
people. But the city itself! It was more beautiful than I could have believed.
Pictures could not do this great city justice. We cruised slowly over the
famous buildings. Both of us were incredibly impressed with the legendary
works. Finally, we floated over the Coliseum. My brother took my old Leica
and snapped a number of shots with it.
Leaving the glory of Rome behind we rose quickly and headed northwest
over the continent. As we zipped along, avoiding heavy air traffic, the
cities of Europe unfolded below us. We arrived in Paris, and after a similar
mini air tour of that splendid city I spun the ship around the Eiffel Tower
a few times and shot up into the sky with the speed of lightning. My brother
questioned my doing doughnuts around that majestic spire, but I had a feeling
that he was more concerned with his nauseous stomach than any affront to
He plotted a return course home and as the sky deepened in colour with
every kilometre travelled to the west, we both sat there, contented with
our achievements of the past days. I landed the ship in my backyard as
the sun was rising. I was excited and exhausted at the same time.
While we went through the post-flight check I wondered yet again if
I was insane to plan my voyage to Mars, but as soon as I dropped out of
the ship and onto the ground I looked up at the fading stars and the doubts
left my mind.
I had to know...
It could not be true, but it was. By some fluke I had come to possess
this ship and its contents.
To tell you:
My dearest nephew Edgar,
I think of you often. How I remember the day I met you on your father's
plantation in Virginia! Even then you were a fine storyteller, inventing
people, their worlds, and their incredible adventures. I have been fortunate
that a creative person like yourself has brought my dry accountings to
life. That you have lived a comfortable life because of it gives me great
I know this ship and its contents must be quite a surprise to you. The
young padwar accompanying it will take you in it to the cruiser orbiting
Yes, it's true. I'm inviting you to come to Barsoom. Now that we can
travel between planets (the cruiser is to be the first of many) I felt
it only right that you be the first to enjoy the hospitality of the courts
I regret that I could not teleport to Tarzana to give you the good news
in person, but the Tharks and Warhoon have renewed their war. The fighting
has been fierce and it threatens to touch all the cities surrounding this
conflict, including Helium. I feel that they mean to annihilate one another
and Tars Tarkas has been heavy with responsibility for months now.
The city states cannot stay neutral much longer.
Every day brings fresh appeals for aid to my throne. As Warlord, my
decision will affect all the others and so I have sought a balance of forces
to stave off plunging half my planet into war. However, as a man, Tars
Tarkas is my friend and ally and I cannot ignore his pleas.
I will understand if you choose not to come, whether it be the tensions
building here, or the limits of old age. I do hope to see you, Edgar.
I am writing this on (Earth date) November 18, 1944. You should have
this in your hands by the second week in December, they tell me.
My warmest regards,
Jed of Helium
Warlord of Barsoom
Burroughs had never received the letter. The padwar wasn't in the 'shuttle'.
What happened to the cruiser? And why after forty-five years had the shuttle,
far off course, landed in the park?
It would take me many months to piece it all together.
In between my legs stood the joystick. I put my hand on it to keep my
hand steady. On the console with the gauges was the small throttle lever.
I pushed it forward slowly. The ship began to rise gently, thanks to the
tanks of the eighth ray . My brother stood at the back door to my house.
He would smooth things over with my parents and friends. It wouldn't be
too bad. This was a typical thing for me to do (going away on short notice).
11 p.m. The main computer monitor was mounted to my left just in front
of the indicator panel . It registered meteorological data right now. Crosswind:
5 kmh. Relative humidity: low. Temperature: 27c. The gyroscope was mounted
on the inside of the nose bubble. It showed that the ship's attitude was
I tried not to think about the dangers ahead.
On the main prop (the two boom props were for manoeuvring) the top speed
was about 4000 kmh, but when her main engine was brought on line (I had
failed to previously notice three iris ports below the prop, which belonged
to the atomic drive ) she was a relatively quick spaceship. It would take
me a little over two weeks to reach Mars.
Heliumites have always been, and always will be, the greatest speed
freaks in the galaxy. Their philosophy: put in the biggest engine that
will fit in the ship and hope she doesn't melt from the air friction caused.
I would be very careful not to engage the atomic drive until I was in the
upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere.
At 75 metres I pressed down on the right hand pedal under my foot. The
ship's main prop whirred to life. Before I ascended any further, I switched
the computer over to radar priority. If I was using another program and
an object came within my radar's range (about 20 km) it would switch over
automatically, warning me. Right now, I needed it to avoid any planes over
the city. There were a couple of large objects in the northeast (jets)
and a small blip (a light plane or helicopter) to the southeast. I took
a couple of deep breaths slow through my nose.
Don't panic now, Ches.
I pressed down the accelerator, slowly bringing up my speed. I pulled
back on the stick. The ship eased up in a graceful arc, cutting the night
sky with her invisible body. I was glad we had taken the test flight.
The g-forces were increasing steadily.
BOOM! went the speed of sound behind me.
Pushed the pedal all the way to the floor, slowly, steadily. The g-forces
remained relatively constant and easily bearable. The seats were well designed.
I looked over at the cat. He was okay, but not liking this much. He had
stretched out full length to reduce the pressure.
With no worries about running out of fuel I could take my time escaping
from Earth's gravity well. Just keep the nose up and the speed constant
and I'd glide on out.
Speed was getting harder to maintain, and I realised after checking
the gauges that air pressure had been dropping steadily, and therefore,
the props didn't have much air to pull on.
We had been at our top prop speed of 4000 km/h, but were slowly dropping
from that. I took my foot off the accelerator. No dramatic drop in our
speed. I reached over my head. Touched the prop switch off and engaged
the atomic drive. The wing props sucked into the sides of the ship and
the main prop did also, the rudder becoming another streamlining, heat
dissipating fin. The ship lurched a bit as its aerodynamics shifted.
Eat your hearts out NASA, the Russians, and the rest of the whole darn
world! I was the first man to fly to Mars.
I touched the accelerator gently. We jumped ahead. Had to feel this
out. No way to test it at lower altitudes. Controls felt different, slightly
less responsive, no wings.
I held the stick firmly with both hands and squeezed my legs around
it too. The cat crawled into my lap. Hold the stick in one place and you'll
glide gently out of Mother Earth's grip. I steadily applied pressure to
the pedal and kept the nose up. I was sucked back into my seat, the cat
pressing into my gut. Okay. No problem.
The sky grew ever darker. From deep blue it thickened to indigo and
finally pitch black. The whisper of the hull in the thin air turned into
a rattle, mercifully brief, and then utter silence surrounded us. I kept
the thrust on for another ten minutes and then lifted my foot from the
pedal. As my body caught up to the ship, and the cat struggled to get out
of my abdomen, my senses relaxed. I ran a hand across my sweaty face.
The moon was off to my left, peering over the limb of the Earth. The
cat floated by my right shoulder. Get used to it.
I clicked on the star charts icon on the computer. Okay, I have my direction.
Now today's solar system model. Clicked on the star field I was facing.
I had to turn to face another field. Easy enough. There was nothing between
me and Mars. I would intercept her in the next few weeks. I unbuckled my
seat strap and reached for a CD case under the seat. I slid the CD into
'on Planet Claire
all the trees are red
'no one ever dies there
no one has a head'
My hand reached out and shut off the alarm. I had quickly grown to love
sleeping in zero-g. It was extremely simple. All you had to do was string
a few straps from your harness to the walls. Sleep came easy as you floated
effortlessly in this womblike atmosphere.
I unhooked myself now. Stretching full out, I woke my body up. A gentle
push on the bulkhead sent me slowly to the back of the forward cabin. The
cat followed me. Here there were a few storage cabinets and a new bar fridge.
Out of the fridge I pulled a disposable baby bottle liner filled with
a mixture of canned cat food and apple juice. It had a cap at one end which
I unscrewed and attached a rubber nipple in its place.
I grabbed the cat and cradled him while I squeezed the food into him
slowly. He sucked it down and I would be glad to put him back on solid
food as soon as possible. His breath was abominable on the soft stuff.
After he finished that I gave him some water the same way.
My own meal consisted of baby food mixed with a vitamin powder in, you
guessed it, a baby bottle liner, and a similar container of grapefruit
Eating was a pain. In fact, there was only one thing harder to do in
these conditions, but the less said about that, the better.
My breakfast finished, I bounced lightly to the cockpit and checked
the ship's status.
Nothing much had changed in the last six-and-a-half hours, except that
the red planet was noticeably larger in the star field. I was still seven
hours out. Even after 18 days in space I still stood in awe of what I was
doing. But when it overwhelmed me, I turned my attention to the activities
of course changes, log entries on the computer, and equipment preparation.
This helped me greatly, because if I got lost in myself, my outward concentration
would be pitiful, and that would mean careless errors leading to God-knows-what.
Everything checked out. I placed a Beatles CD in the player and quit
the cockpit for the rear of the ship again. Opposite from the food stores
was a tall closet attached to the bulkhead. The door rolled up into the
top of the compartment revealing two Martian space suits and my gear. I
pulled my stuff from the closet and closed it up again.
Before I did anything else, I removed the undershorts and t-shirt that
I was wearing and stuffed them into a laundry bag filled with other dirty
clothes. I turned around and pulled a liquid filled container from one
of the cupboards.
Removing the outer plastic lid, it revealed a rubber inner cover.
This had a thin slit in the centre that accommodated my hand and reaching
through I pulled out a sponge now full of water and antiseptic soap.
I sponge-bathed myself and squeezed out the sponge into a rubber-covered
I brushed my teeth and remembered to keep my mouth closed this time.
Feeling a little cleaner, but wanting a good hot shower, I opened my
duffel bag. Time to get ready for my arrival. I pulled on the dull silver
shorts and matching t-shirt that I would wear in the daytime. Both were
lined with a light synthetic that would absorb sweat and keep it away from
my skin. The silver outer layer reflected 70% of the sunlight and heat
that touched it. I also had a body-length poncho made of the same material.
Next, I put on the shoes I had purchased at the same survival gear store
I had bought most of my personal equipment from. They were flexible like
a rock climbing shoe, but heavy in construction like a good hiking boot.
The shoes were also lined with the sweat absorbing synthetic.
The harness I would wait to put on. It had been vastly altered from
the bejewelled court apparel it once was. I had removed all the gems and
precious metals fro m the leather straps, but I left the house crest and
red gem as the centrepiece. It would identify me to the court of Helium
as a friend. In place of the other ornamentation I had a tailor sew heavy
canvas pouches to the chest straps. These I filled with various articles
which included my Leica M3.
Across my lower back a half-size canvas backpack was attached to the
harness. In it were the gems and metals from the harness, rations, a first
aid kit, lenses & a flash, and an insulated jacket, pants, & bella
clava. I also had a pair of heavy gloves and a lighter leather pair. Martian
nights are cold. And finally, there was a white canvas baseball cap with
a cloth fringe like that on a French Foreign legionnaire's kepi. Attached
to the bottom of the backpack was a very thin, very compact, very warm
The radium gun in its new holster I attached to my left hip. I had adapted
a holster I bought to fit the alien weapon.
Last came the long sword, short sword, and dagger. I was reluctant to
attach them, as they would be less than useless in my hands. Something
urged me to carry them, and I went with the feeling.
I stowed everything else in preparation for landing, including the harness,
and slowly collected my thoughts. You may wonder why I chose to alter the
traditional Martian dress and outfit myself for survival when it was very
simple for me to go directly to the court of Helium, be well-received,
and enjoy a visit with the red men of Mars.
There were many things that told me Mars would in all likelihood be
First and foremost, was the data collected by the NASA/JPL probes. Mars
seemed to be dead. What had happened? What disaster had befallen this planet?
I was heading into an arid wasteland.
Second. Neither John Carter nor Ulysses Paxton had attempted to communicate
with Earth since 1942, not including Carter's belated letter. It was well
known that Burroughs' family had promised to continue publishing any and
all manuscripts received from Mars. Yet, none had materialised. Why?
Third. No matter how good things look, hope for the best, expect the
worst. Only a fool goes in unprotected.
I reduced my speed as I neared Mars' outer moon Deimos. To achieve this
I had to use only one of the three atomic exhaust ports as a manoeuvring
jet, and I swung the shuttle around 180°. Then I used the opposite
port to counter the spin.
A person with the barest knowledge of physics (someone like myself,
for instance ) will understand that this was quite necessary. Simply cutting
the power to the atomic engines would not stop me. In fact, I had not been
using the engines except for course corrections for many days now. When
you are out of the range of a planetary body, or more importantly, gravity,
inertia will keep an object moving if it is moving, or conversely, at rest
if it is at rest.
So having no brakes to slow me down, I applied thrust into the opposite
direction of my course. Slowly I brought up all three atomic ports and
Deimos almost ground to a halt off the port side.
I swung the shuttle around again and there, in the distance, Phobos
rolled across the sky. In a little while it would move out of the way and
I could go forward to attempt a landing without the fear of being whacked
by a moon. I suppose if I had been an experienced pilot, I could have flown
around the satellite, but I felt I had used up too much luck just to have
made it this far. It was time to play things a little safer.
While I waited I took care of a few last minute chores. I put the cat
in his cage, something I had absolutely forgotten to do when I left Earth.
He would be much safer there, and he wouldn't be bothering me while I went
through this crucial operation. Nothing was loose or floating aimlessly
about. I strapped myself in, and then I saw it.
MARS! THE RED PLANET!
I had been approaching it for days, my nose always on the centre of
the disc it showed me, but now!
The grandeur of the vision swept over me. The adrenalin pulsed through
my blood and I felt dizzy for a moment, almost as if I was going to be
sucked into the spinning red depths.
I had crossed the void.
The atomic engine pulsed rhythmically beneath me. Phobos had passed
off to starboard. I swept in gently under its orbit, twisting the ship
to approach Mars on a parallel latitudinal orbit. I looked out to port.
Good. The planet was travelling faster than I was. Given time my orbit
would decay, but if I did this right that wouldn't matter as it could only
It was more important now that I rolled so that the ship's belly faced
the planet. To accomplish this, I switched over to the air props, as the
atomic engine was useless for this type of move.
I applied power to the starboard boom prop and Mars drifted under the
port side of the shuttle. A little counter force from the port prop halted
my roll. Mars lay under me. The curve of her horizon at the bottom of the
shuttle's nose bubble.
I retracted the props and under the power of the atomic engine once
again, I let the nose dip carefully towards Mars. I applied little power
here, it was on hold in case of an emergency. My right hand sat on the
eighth ray lever, waiting for the moment to use it.
The curve of the horizon had begun to flatten and I could feel the ship
accelerate. Vibrations shuddered softly around me. That was okay for now.
I kept glancing at the hull temperature gauge. It didn't record anything
below -40c, and I could see the logic, because it wasn't cold that destroyed
The gauge shot upwards at the same time I saw a cherry red glow engulf
the shuttle's nose. I had been prepared for this, but I still jumped a
bit. No. No panic. I'm okay.
Nice and easy here we go. I tapped the accelerator pedal lightly and
pulled back on the joystick at the same time. The glow faded from my eye.
That's it. Keep the nose up. The hull temperature dropped a little and
then stabilised. I had reached the entry level: the outer atmosphere of
I kept the ship as steady as I could. The sky began to change from its
ebon blackness to a deep brown, and a whisper of sound came from outside
the ship. A low scream of rushing air and hot metal comforted my sound-starved
ears. Burgundy gave way to bloody crimson and the ship became difficult
I edged the eighth ray control lever forward. The ship immediately began
to rock and buffet, making it incredibly tough to control. Extending the
boom props would have helped stabilise the shuttle, but it wasn't a good
move at this speed. The quiet scream increased to a dull roar.
The tendons stood out on my left arm, as I did my best to steady the
ship. The cat started to yowl in his cage. He never did like being crated.
The vibrations rattled the cabin. MEOW! The stick leapt in my hand. Hold
onto it! MEOW! MEOW! MEOW! I increased the power of the eighth ray and
I was sucked into my seat by the deceleration.
My airspeed dropped noticeably. The stick's response returned to normal,
and I rose in my seat. Against the backdrop of a deep orange sky, I switched
the engines over to the props. We bounced around for a few moments and
then all was still.
MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!
I could hear the... wind, and feel it buffet the hull. After so many
days of utter silence broken only by the stereo or our voices, it was incredible
to be wrapped in a world again.
Then I felt the gravity. Obviously, it had been increasing steadily,
but now I felt my body rest in the seat. The natural tension had returned
to my form.
I descended for a few minutes and the altimeter read 33.5 haads, which
I roughly converted to 20 000 metres.
The shuttle was motionless 30 metres from the surface, suspended by
the two full tanks of the eighth ray. I had opened the iris hatch and stood
on the ladder in side the ship, my torso halfway out the ship like a tank
commander's. I slowly rotated left and then right scanning the horizon
with a small, powerful pair of Leitz binoculars.
I had taken the precaution to wear a Martian space suit when I had first
opened the hatch, and I had put the cat in the other one. Opening the face
mask to let in the Martian air had made me more nervous than the trip here
had. Was the air CO2 like the textbooks said? My first, tentative breath
shattered that part of the scientific view of Mars.
It was difficult breathing this hot air, though. It was thick in CO2,
and thin in O2. I had lived much of my life in the British Columbia mountains,
so I wasn't as fatigued as someone who had lived at sea level. I breathed
slowly and deeply , endeavouring to increase my lung capacity. It would
be weeks before my body adapted to this harsh, dying world.
From horizon to horizon I searched for some signs of life, past or present.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Descending into my invisible ship I sat down at the controls. I brought
the shuttle within 2 metres of the ground and set forth at a slow pace.
The plain of a dead sea bottom rolled out in front of me. No ochre moss
remained, just a fine iron oxide dust that produced swirling red clouds
when the wind picked it up.
The radar was on. It swept out in front of me, feeling for shapes. Apart
from the stable features of the land around me, the screen remained blank
and impassive .
The Martian radio monitored the airwaves but only static greeted my
If I could find Helium and if I could reconcile the literary descriptions
of the locations of the Barsoomian city states with my computer model of
Mars, then I would have some clue as to where to search first.
As it was, I only had the roughest of ideas of its location: probably
about 15° south of the equator in the 'western' hemisphere. I stumbled
about the landscape in my ship hoping to get lucky.
The radar caught my attention. It was indicating a large, no, HUGE mass
to the northwest. I turned about and yes, there it was, a dust storm headed
for me at an alarming rate. If the scope was to be believed, it was going
to envelop me in less than thirty seconds. There was no time to think.
It looked to be a few kilometres high, and already the winds whipped around
the shuttle, making it incredibly hard to control. It was all I could do
to hold on to the stick with both hands and try to ascend above the seething
Then it was upon me. The bow was pushed viciously upwards under me.
Damn! The prop engines weren't powerful enough to push me through this.
I needed the infinitely more powerful atomic engine.
I clenched my rattling teeth and forced my shaking hand to the systems
panel overhead. I switched over the engines, and that was all nature needed
to throw me helter skelter. The boom props had been acting as stabilisers,
keeping the shuttle somewhat upright. Now, as they retracted, the twisting
airborne sands took the shuttle and threw it over and over, cartwheeling
me through the Martian sky 5 kilometres up. The cat was screaming hysterically,
fear gripped him horribly. Any efforts I made were futile, complicated
by the constantly changing g-forces I was hit with.
It was all taken out of my hands by a wayward piece of something that
broke free and bounced off my skull, sending me into numbing oblivion.
My right eye won't open. I flex my face. Something stuck to my face.
Stick out tongue to reach some of it. Crusty. Hollow metal taste. Turns
sticky in mouth. Blood. Dried blood.
Arms so sore. Stretched out. Crucified? Left eye looks out blearily.
Between two marble pillars. Chained like Samson. On my knees.
Odd light. There. Not there. Illumination. Revelation. Shifting.
"A man is only a man when he is fighting. A sword in his hand is
worth more than all the noble sentiments of life."
Who? I can see you.
"Survival can only be assured by constant war upon your enemies.
Peace is tenuous, held only by an armoured fist."
Tall, bronzed demi-god. Regal. Noble. Self-filled. Thick black hair.
Grey eyes. Incredible presence in the shining harness. Sinewy muscles playing
under his supple hide.
"Are there no real warriors left on Jasoom? Are you all they have
left to give? Pathetic."
Tongue thick. Swollen. Dry throat. Speak!
"I...," hesitate, "I am hu-man..."
The skin cracks and the wind carries his dust away.
"I am you, man."
Consciousness slowly returned. My hands rose to my face. Where the object
had hit, dried blood caked a deep gash. No damage to the eye. My chest
was sore where the straps had dug deeply into it. Pulled a few muscles.
I had been out for two hours. I had no idea where the sandstorm had
carried me, but the shuttle's hull was intact, at least. Too many warning
lights flashed yellow at me. I wouldn't be flying anytime soon. The cat
was okay in his crate, albeit a little thrashed like his friend.
As the shuttle's nose was buried in the sand, I had to open the iris
hatch to find out where we were. I was nervous to do so. We might be buried
under 10 metres of sand or, as the steep forward incline of the ship indicated,
we could be crashed nose first into a sand dune.
I slid the hatch switch. A bit of sand trickled in with the harsh afternoon
light. Donning a pair of sunglasses I clambered out. The cat followed.
The ship was half-covered in the soil of Mars. It had come to rest on
a shelf near the coastline of one of the ancient seas.
My patience was running bloody thin. This damned anonymous planet was
determined to give up none of its secrets. Was there no one left? No yellow
moss to stop soil erosion. Dirty, dusty place.
Where were the fliers of Helium or the great green hordes that claimed
these dead seas as their territory? No trace left of the ancient cities
that were once the busy ports of Mars' oceanic past.
Had I come only to put a capstone in the dirt?
While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, the cat had been scratching
at something a few yards away. I joined him. There was something here.
I dug at the loose soil. My hands hit something and I frantically scrabbled
to get a purchase on it. The cat was growling, sensing something was there.
Dust flew up in our faces. I sneezed. I was able at last to grab a piece
of it and with both hands I pulled up hard. Packed dirt fell away in clumps.
It was a harness and attached to it was the corpse of a green warrior.
Dried and emaciated it had lain here for many years. This wasn't much,
but at least I didn't feel so crazy about being here now. Burroughs''s
Mars was very real. It still left the question of how their society and
planet had been decimated in a little over forty years.
I took out the binoculars again. I scanned the coastline. There must
be something here.
Yes. Yes, there was. If you weren't looking for them specifically, you'd
miss them. I retrieved my pack from the shuttle and headed out in the direction
of my discovery.
Walking was difficult but I had been prepared for this. I took small
steps to avoid awkward hopping. I was really in no mood to go leaping like
a frog. However, the cat did a good imitation of a furry grasshopper. Cats
are highly adaptable, like humans. He would soon learn to restrain his
movements like he had had to on the shuttle.
We clambered up the last rise to the 'shore'.
There stood the rubble of a once proud city, now covered in oxide dust,
camouflaging it in the surrounding terrain. This is what I had seen through
The silence was overwhelming. No birds. No animals. Nothing. Just crushed
pillars and pediments. I brushed away some of the dust with the back of
my hand. Underneath lay the white stone used in these ancient buildings.
I found that it was quite soft. We wormed our way through the devastation.
Statues lay dismembered, half submerged in the sand, their features worn
away by the years.
There was the occasional skeleton of a green man littering the roadways.
Nearly all still had their metal. This puzzled me. A conquering foe or
force always took the vanquished's possessions as proof of conquest. I
stopped at a few of these corpses to remove their pouches only. They contained
several types of Martian currency (for the hordes attacked caravans of
many cities), and numerous vials of a thick, odorous liquid.
This, I hoped, must be the wondrous healing salve that the green men
praised so highly.
No time like the present to try it out. I sat down on a dusty foundation
block and propped up a small mirror, from one of my pouches, next to me.
I cleaned the gash on my forehead with some hydrogen peroxide and a cotton
ball from the first aid kit in my backpack. A small trickle of blood seeped
down my face attempting to form a new scab. Quickly, I undid the string
that held the waxy leather cap on the green glass vial. I dipped my pinky
into the mauve lotion. It tingled slightly. I gently wiped it into the
cut. The bleeding immediately stopped. It burned worse than the peroxide
had, a wisp of purple smoke sliding through my hair.
In a few minutes the wound had closed totally, and only a bright red
scar marked its end.
Yes, that's right folks! Try our new Miracle Martian Ointment! It cleans
up acne ! It destroys warts! It'll even close up that radium bullethole
you got this morning! Only $9.95 when you order today from Marsco!
I guess this was the first pangs of culture shock. I packed up the stuff
I had used and made my way up a rubble strewn hill.
At the summit I found a shaded spot made by the ruins. After I had pulled
something from my rations to eat, and had also fed the cat, I climbed on
top of this makeshift shelter to better scan the entire city with the binoculars.
The shadows were lengthening in the late Martian afternoon. A gentle
cool breeze swept around me carrying the ever-present dust. I had at most
one hour of daylight left. Swirling crimsons, ochres, and siennas blazed
vibrant brushstrokes across the sky. I might as well head back to the shuttle
and get a good night's rest and really comb these ruins thoroughly tomorrow,
and after that, who knew? I was doing my best not to worry about being
utterly alone on this deserted planet.
I squinted painfully as the harsh sunlight refracted through the binoculars.
Phobos rose and raced across the banded sky, and... eh?
What had I just seen? Movement? Too far away to tell. Too much light
bouncing around the lenses.
I leapt down from my vantage point and bounded in great jumps across
the stone blocks.
I headed further into the ruins. The cat went ballistic as his proportionately
stronger legs met the challenge to keep up with me. He was a good 50 metres
ahead of me when I neared the crumbled wall I had been observing. What
I saw was just beyond it. The cat stood on top of the wall now, his back
arched, tail fluffed, growling an angry challenge at whatever was beyond.
Throwing caution to the wind (for a lack of a better phrase) I hurdled
the low wall and immediately fell 15 metres into a courtyard which at one
time must have been an underground vault. I landed lightly in 1/3 of the
gravity of Earth and my momentum carried me over into a roll. I followed
it through and came to my feet.
Facing me were four green warriors, or what were once green warriors.
They were very emaciated and unhealthy looking, their harnesses tattered
and ill-fitting on their bony structures. Their weapons like their bodies
were covered in dust and grime. Looking past them, there was another green
man, stripped of his harness and weapons (which lay scattered around him).
He was partially conscious and kept trying to get to his feet, but was
bleeding from many wounds and, the most horrible part, his four hands had
been cut off and these lay twitching senselessly in the dirt.
I had little time to contemplate his situation. The four green men were
advancing on me with drawn swords. Great. Just great. John Carter would
surely make quick work of these mangy creatures, but I, stupid with a sword,
had no chance with this type of combat. I had an option though. One that
gave me an edge of surprise and speed.
I unhooked my backpack and sword and dropped them in the dirt. My adversaries
hesitated for a moment. I pressed the advantage.
Running full tilt towards them, screaming at the top of my lungs, I
leapt at the foremost green warrior.
My earthly strength sent me straight for his head, and snapping a side
kick, I crushed his face as if it was an eggshell.
Damn it! NO! That wasn't supposed to happen! I had failed to reduce
the power of my kick in the lesser gravity.
My remaining 4 metre tall antagonists gathered their wits quickly. No
sooner had I alighted some 10 metres away from them, they were charging
me. Please, I don' t want to kill you. There was no strategy apparent here,
just cut me down and be done with it. They seemed to move so slowly. God,
I had no choice. I ripped open a pouch on my harness and withdrew a throwing
star, a shuriken, and whipped it at the central green man. I struck him
in the upper chest, slicing through his parchment-like hide. He pitched
over, clutching at the drooling wound. The warrior on his left stopped
to aid his companion. Why this warrior of a cold and compassionless race
did this I did not know, though it probably saved my life and allowed me
to do what I did next.
The warrior who was still coming for me drew back his sword arm, intent
on cleaving me in two with one swing.
I let him rush me, and as he swung down his arm I ducked under that
deadly arc, gripped his harness, and using his momentum threw him across
the courtyard, where he sprawled out like a starfish.
He was dazed but quickly regained his knees and was about to rise to
his full height when I was upon him.
I loosed a spinning kick that snapped his head viciously to the right
, breaking his fragile (by Earth standards) neck. He twitched spasmodically,
his body not knowing that it was dead. A coldness possessed me and I shook
with shock, fear, disgust: a hundred emotions at once overloading my mind.
Tears streamed down my dusty face.
My last attacker must have thought enough was enough and drew his radium
pistol. Why had he not attacked me when the advantage was two-to-one? I
couldn't have warded off two opponents at once. It takes more time to write
this than to experience the actual moment, but when I saw the green man
draw, I instinctively reached for my own pistol. My faster reflexes notwithstanding,
he had the drop on me. No shot came from him and I was about to squeeze
the trigger when I looked at him. It took a second for the idea of him
as a target to dissipate, but then I saw him.
He had not left the side of his dying comrade. The resigned look in
his eyes said, "Shoot. Go ahead. What is the point?" The skin around his
mouth sucked back and forth around his long, yellowed tusks.
My pulse slowed and I lowered my pistol and turned away from him. He
shuffled behind me and I turned my head back to see him lift the dead Martian
in his four arms.
His pistol lay in the dirt and he climbed over the rubble with his burden.
I lost sight of him in the ruins of the once beautiful buildings of
ancient Mars, the dust swirling amidst shattered columns and broken arches.
My martial efforts had cost me. Wasn't... quite... used... to this...
I sank to my knees and laboured to breathe slowly and deeply. My meal
of a few minutes ago ignobly decorated the stone floor. I wiped my mouth
with the back of my hand and the spots disappeared from my vision.
I looked around. They were dead Martians, but they were still dead men
who had died because of me.
Their dried blood was upon my hands.
I had never killed anyone before. It didn't matter that the situation
was kill-or-be-killed. It had been too easy. What had happened to all my
beliefs about the sanctity of life? By leaving Earth, was I free from my
self-imposed morality? Was coming to Mars a catharsis revealing my true
self? This comatose planet was powerful indeed.
I broke a cold sweat and shivered horribly. How ill-prepared I was for
this world. Romantic fool!
My meanderings were cut short by a scan of the courtyard.
The cat was sitting by the amputee green warrior, looking perplexed.
One tentative paw, then another, snaked out to flick at the Martian's skull.
I arose and walked over to his body. He was face down in the dirt. I
rolled him over. His breath came in ragged gasps. So many wounds. He was
alive, but would not be for much longer if I did not do something quick.
I raced over to one of the dead men and cut free his harness with my
dagger. I cut the leather into long strips. These I tied around the four
stumps, staunching the flow of blood from them. I spread copious amounts
of the salve I had on the stumps. The green warrior groaned pitifully in
I went and grabbed my backpack and sword. Kneeling again beside him
I observed the many deep sword cuts on the front of his body. It took almost
all the salve I had to cleanse and dress these.
I took the canteen from my harness and let some water dribble between
his lips, holding his head up. He coughed feebly, trying to move his swollen
"Easy," I said, "easy." I tried to keep the tone of my voice as gentle
as possible. I poured a little more water into his mouth. He ran it around
his mouth before swallowing it. He was coming around. I poured some of
the cool liquid over his parched face. His eyes cracked open. No recognition
at first. Then fear. Then anger. He struggled weakly to get to his feet
in a bid to kill me, I guess. My knee on his upper chest kept him where
"Please, just relax. You'll live." I wasn't sure of this. He raised
his stumps shakily and squinted at them in the late afternoon light. A
defiant groan escaped from his lips. He twisted his head around to look
for his hands. They lay there in the dust, already looking as if they had
been baking in the sun for years. The Martian atmosphere is so moisture-barren
that it sucks any water it can get out of the dirt and the living creatures
upon it. The hands and the dead green men were little more than skeletons
with a tanned hide stretched across them.
He sank back down. I brought the canteen to his lips again. He drank
deeply. "That's enough for now. Let's get you out of here." I replaced
the canteen after taking a sip.
I helped him to his feet, which wasn't that difficult. On Earth he would
have weighed around 200 kilos if he wasn't dehydrated like this. On Mars,
which as I said was roughly 1/3 terran gravity, he would weigh 67 kilos.
This decimated green man weighed barely 50 kilos by my guess. He was an
ungainly thing, though. Kind of like putting up an aerial on the roof of
your house in a high wind.
I had my arm around his waist to support him. He was terribly weak.
I was leading him to the opposite side of the courtyard where we could
find an easier way back to the shuttle when he stopped me. He pointed a
stump towards his harness and weapons. His metal. He felt naked. I understood
and led him back to his possessions. Propping him up against a wall I turned
around and bent over to retrieve the harness when he drop kicked me in
I flew through the air in that lower gravity and landed on my back with
a sickening thud on the hard stone floor. I hate it when someone does that
to me. It's not so much the pain but the hollow numbness that overcomes
you. The bottom of the world drops out and you gag and you retch.
When the stars cleared, I rolled over to face him. He still held the
wall up, glaring at me in the rapidly fading light. I lifted myself gingerly
to my feet and tiptoed over to the green bastard. I stood there waiting
for the inevitable.
Presently, the light went out behind his eyes and he pitched forward.
I caught him in my arms. I stuffed his things into my harness and balanced
him precariously across my shoulders.
Still not feeling quite right, and really not being able to see where
the heck I was going, I let the cat lead us out of the courtyard.
The Martian night had arrived with little warning, and with it, a sudden
drop in temperature, but I was more concerned with the possibility of ambush.
I had neither heard nor observed any other green men or any of their fierce
mounts, the wild thoat. The men I had killed were probably just a wandering
group, but I was relieved when we at last came to the shuttle.
I opened the hatch and stuffed the green bastard inside. My groin still
ached. The cat hopped up onto the hull and dropped lightly inside. I descended
into the dimly lit cabin myself and slid the switch that closed the iris
I removed my gear. He really had done a number on my privates. I reached
into the fridge and retrieved some ice from the freezer. After wrapping
it in a towel I applied it to my tender flesh, and in a few minutes the
cold had numbed the throbbing ache.
I turned around to face my charge. He lay with his feet close to me,
his head at the other end of the cabin. Why couldn't they grow them smaller?
I picked my way nimbly around him to get to his arms. An examination of
one of the stumps revealed that the salve had cauterised the wounds. Scar
tissue was beginning to form. The tourniquets would do more harm than good
now. He needed the blood (what was left of it) to reach the stumps to keep
the remaining flesh healthy. I loosened the leather straps, and the blood
turned the green skin a sickly red underneath. The sealed veins and arteries
I attempted to bring the cabin lights up. The damaged circuitry fizzled
and popped and I was rewarded with lights at half-power.
My eyes marvelled at this strange being before me. Burroughs' words
echoed in my mind. John Carter had done well in describing the green Martians,
so I will not quote his words, but simply add my own thoughts and observations
to the record.
His two chests rose and fell in slow alternating rhythms. His body must
be given air constantly through this action. A decided advantage in this
harsh atmosphere. I was gently awed with his restful breathing. Here he
lay, with what dreamed thoughts I did not know, but with the simple purpose
of being alive. Not a trace of warrior's fury was captured in that face,
just simple calm. He could have been an old man or a hatchling, his features
benign and impassive. In all my life I could never have imagined this moment.
A love of science fiction in all its forms had paved the way for a fantastic
imagination, but the best Hollywood special effects crew could only capture
his form and never the animation that life had breathed into this giant.
This was no make-up wizardry. He was real and alive.
I pushed a CD into the player. Nothing. No music. I was not impressed.
"Yay," I muttered.
I pulled a sponge out, soaking it with soapy water. I wiped his body
down, cleansing him. Even in repose he was magnificent. He awoke while
I was buffing his tusks. I expected the worst. As much as I admired nature's
design in him, he was a complete unknown. My fists clenched.
There was something new in his eyes. No belligerence, just solemn acquiescence.
My fists turned into hands and I helped him to a sitting position. His
head just cleared the cabin ceiling. He looked at me. A smile, then a laugh,
crossed his lips.
"Seepo no tanda," he said in a creaky voice.
"Likewise," I said with a warm smile. "I'm sure you're hungry. Let me
get you something to eat." I left him to go to the cupboard. I was just
about to open it when he started to fade out on me again. He was wobbling
on four elbows when I quickly returned to him and propped him up against
I went back to the cupboard and slid the door back only to have its
contents disgorge themselves upon me.
One metal tin whucked me in the forehead and I fell back, slightly dazed.
"Hur hur hur..." came the wheezing laugh from my charge.
"I can tell we are going to get along just fine," I replied, smiling.
I opened a tin of fruit cocktail and a box of crackers. Armed with a
spoon I attempted to feed him.
"Panto nak shum!" he growled.
"Oh, shut up." Stubborn ass. I shoved the spoon into his face.
"Until you're stronger you're going to have to learn to be dependent.
SO EAT YOU STUPID GREEN BASTARD!"
He chewed and gulped. The mouth opened again. We had achieved communication.
I fed him the can of fruit and he ate it quickly. Hopefully, it would give
him a bit of quick energy.
I opened the crackers and started popping them into his mouth. I ate
a couple myself. The cat sat a few feet away, alternately eying the green
man and the crackers. The cat loved crackers, but would not come closer
to the Martian while he was awake and moving.
"It's all right, cat, he won't hurt you," I called to him, but he would
not budge. A little warbling murmur was his only response. He readjusted
his weight on his paws. I threw him a cracker and he proceeded to gnaw
I looked back at the green guy. He was looking depressed and I could
wholly sympathise. He had had one hell of a day.
"My name is Chester," I started, pointing to my chest, "Chester."
He blinked and chewed.
"Who are you?" I pointed to him. "You? What is your name?" He got the
idea and attempted to speak, but his throat wouldn't let any sound out.
"Oh geez, the crackers are drying you up aren't they." I felt a little
like an idiot. He was a person who was dehydrated, and I was soaking up
all the liquids in his mouth. At least I hadn't put peanut butter on the
"Just give me a minute," I said, getting up and making for the fridge.
I pulled a jug of skim milk out.
From behind me the cat hissed. Mr. Green Jeans was attempting to grab
him, his tusks snapping at the cat's batting paws.
"Hey, hey, hey, 'Ey!" I snapped, running over cuffing the green guy
on the back of the head. "You don't eat the cat!" I picked up the cat.
"See, cat. No good to eat, give you a fur ball," I said, making spitting
noises and an ugly face. Then calmer, I pet the animal and made soothing
sounds. I put him down and he ran off.
The warrior was sulking again. I poured some milk into a cup and held
it up to his lips. His pride recovered more quickly than the last time,
and with a sigh he relaxed and opened his mouth. He swallowed the liquid
and made motions that he wanted more.
I wiped the milk moustache off his lip with a cloth. I started to pour
him another cup, when he indicated that he wanted the jug. I held it out
and he squeezed it between his four stumps and raised it to his lips. He
chugged it down and emptied it totally. Finally he lowered it and took
a deep breath and belched loudly, the sound reverberating off the hull.
I had to laugh, and he laughed back. Then he delicately set down the empty
container, pointed to himself, and said, "Sakoma Nu."
"Good to meet you, Sakoma Nu."
"Ches-, Ches-tur, Chestur?"
"That's right, Sakoma."
"Mohk-tu neela Jasoom?" he asked.
"Yes, yes Sakoma! I'm from Jasoom! I'm from Earth!" I was elated. Perhaps
he knew of John Carter or Ulysses Paxton's whereabouts.
I asked him as much, stressing the names. Paxton drew a blank, and I
did not take much hope in his reaction to Carter's name. He sneered and
spat out some words, one of which I thought was 'ulsio'.
That sounded familiar and I thought hard to remember that ulsio was
the word for the Martian rat. This furrowed my brow and only added to my
worry. Not only was Mars a barren husk of a once-teeming planet, what should
be one of this world's greatest leaders was being compared to vermin .
I looked back up at Sakoma. He was looking tired, but his green colour
was becoming more even. I took that as an indication that the food he had
eaten was doing its job. "I guess you could use some sleep," I said, and
got up to get some blankets for the floor.
I returned with a foam mattress and spread the blankets on it beside
him. I tossed a pillow up by his head, and made the sign of sleep to him:
I rested my held on my flattened hands. He nodded and stretched out. He
looked up at me and made the same sign. I shook my head no, and tried to
communicate that I had to fix the ship.
He nodded and settled back. I think it took him all of 30 seconds before
I heard the deep, regular breath of sleep come from him. "Tomorrow, we
have to start learning each other's language," I said softly at him from
across the room, "I have to know what happened here." My eyes bored at
him intensely, and then I turned my attention to the ship.
It took me about an hour to straighten things up. Very little of my
provisions were damaged. Further examination of the ship's systems revealed
that they would need a bit of work, but given time, I would be able to
fix most of them. The main battery had been ripped free from the power
conduits and once I had reconnected it, power returned to the ship.
I raised the ship out of the sand by rocking it back and forth. The
sand fell from the nose cone and the glittering blackness of the Martian
night revealed itself. The ship was not handling very well, some of the
control surfaces had been damaged. I flew the craft slowly to a rocky hollow
and set it down. I had been working on the ship for three hours since Sakoma
had gone to sleep, and now I was very tired myself. The rest of the repairs
would have to wait until morning. I turned on the invisibility screen,
and crawled into my sleeping bag. The cat was already in there, and I fell
asleep as my head touched the pillow.