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Volume 0511
Jasoom  - Pellucidar - Caspak - Tarzana - Africa
BarsoomSasoomVanah - LunaAmtor - Cosoom
The Many Worlds of
Edgar Rice Burroughs Signature

"The master of imaginative fantasy adventure...
...the creator of Tarzan and...
...the 'grandfather of science-fiction'"

Presents
At the Core of Mars
By 
Seth Kallen Deitch
Copyright 1999 S.K. Deitch


Chapter 1
A Prince of Earth

 
I will, in time, explain the method of how I have been able to address the inhabitants of the twentieth century. Suffice it to say that a method became available to me and addressing my remote ancestors became both possible and desirable.

My name is Julian, officially Robin Harold Julian 68th, Prince-Jemdar of Earth, and the Protector of Vah-Nah as well as several equally important sounding titles and that alone should inform you of some of the circumstances of my life. I bear the name Julian with a certain amount of pride, but also with the clear knowledge that I have personally done nothing to create the reputation which it signifies.

Julian is the name of the house of the Yank-Jemdar of Earth and has been for some six hundred odd years ever since Julian 20th, the Red Hawk, started the revolution that would result in reclaiming our world from the Kalkars of Vah-Nah.

Some day, I will be Jemdar for as much as that is worth. The position has been largely ceremonial for two centuries. The fact is that the Julians are the pampered pets of the Terran nation. We live graciously, we have what we want, the people love us and we incite no controversy. For me, life has held opportunity for everything I could possibly want save for that which I want the most, adventure.

Adventure! I have learned not to even mention the word in the presence of my father! He is ever willing to dismiss and deride my strange craving. Every young man once sought to toss off the bonds of his world and seek something greater, unknown and dangerous, but this has slowly been bred out of our race as we have advanced through time and grown to know more of the world.

In the era before the coming of the Kalkars, humanity had become briefly aware of the existence of the inhabitants of Barsoom and Pellucidar but had that knowledge stripped from us during our cruel oppression. That awareness was won back through difficult exploration by men who are as remotely in the past from me as is Christopher Columbus from your age.

Today, San Francisco, the capital city of Earth, stands almost directly above the city of Greenwich in Pellucidar and can be reached in a small fraction of an hour by underground rail. The average person can holiday on Amtor or might very well have a second house in the restored and irrigated countrysides of Vah-Nah. The would be adventurer who wishes to travel to Barsoom need only purchase a ticket and may, if he has the means, make the passage in pampered luxury. I myself took the first part of my university in Greater Helium before I returned to Earth to continue my studies.

To a young man, who craves the unknown, this world of my age seems tame and lacking in that which a young fellow of my sort needs the most, that hated word. Adventure.

Barsoom holds political sway over all of the worlds outward from the sun from itself although they have only developed Thuria, Cluros and Eurobus with a few of its moons to any degree. Earth controls the Moon and the inner worlds of Pellucidar and Vah-Nah under the direct government of the Jemdarate and administrates Amtor as a protectorate with its own local Jemdar. The two Solar governments have lived with peaceful, friendly relations for as long as anyone on Earth cares to remember.

For a fellow of my temperament, this was a perfectly awful situation. There were no new worlds to conquer. There was no good fight to fight.

All my life, I had immersed myself in the tales of the great heroes of the past. Gilgamesh, Alexander, Robin Hood, John Carter, John Clayton (Lord Greystoke), Julian the Red Hawk, all of these men got to live the life I craved but was seemingly forever cut off from me.

Or so it was until one day two years ago.

A day like any other it was. I was to make two appearances, one to speak to a civic association in London and another to be interviewed by the "personality press" on the Jemdar's palace grounds.

As the aircar was whisking my secretary Man-tan-ko, a Vaga, and myself over the Atlantic Ocean a radio message arrived. Voiced in official language that left no doubt as to its gravity, I was asked to return to San Francisco. And appear before my father, the Jemdar.

Even having grown up around it, I was still impressed by the Jemdar's audience room at the palace. No man could not be, for its design was for that very purpose. It was here, at least symbolically, that all humans of Earth knew resided the very soul of their race. When Man-tan-ko and I entered the room we were surprised to be greeted with a full honor guard and I saw that standing with my father was the President who was the true political head of state of the Jemdarate of Earth. With the two of them stood a Barsoomian in a metal laden harness wearing the yellow bordered cloak that signified that he was a messenger of the Jeddak of Jeddaks, The Warlord of Barsoom. Of course, the "metal" was purely decorative, signfying his office, nothing more. Barsoomians born after the 24th century were raised with their historic grand martial tradition as nothing more than quaint folklore. He was Nomar Tomak, a high attendant of the Jeddak's court whom I had met on several occasions during my university days. Normally a jovial fellow, he favored me with not so much as a smile on this day.

My father was the first to break the silence. "My son, I am sorry to have brought you back to court with so little warning, but this is a somber day and you are called upon to perform your duties as a crowned prince. You must travel to Barsoom without delay and stand as Earth's representative on a very bleak occasion. After a brief illness, the Grand Jeddara of Barsoom has passed away. You must attend her state funeral."

I was stunned. Barsoomians live ten times longer than Earthmen, a fact which most of us take easily in stride, but sometimes that strange fact is brought home to us with alarming clarity. This was just such a time.

The Grand Jeddara was like a human monument whose years of life had encompassed all of the greatest years of our history. To call her a monument, unfortunately, obscures the fact that she was also a woman of great beauty and wisdom who her devoted husband never ceased to refer to as "incomparable." She was Dejah Thoris, the Heliumite princess who helped her husband reclaim a dying world! I had known her, and like so many others learned that to know her is to love her. Beyond a doubt, she was the most admired woman in the Solar Worlds. Now she had died and an era had come to a close.

I would go and stand with the Jeddak as he bid farewell to his wife. The Jeddak himself was a man with a strange history. It was his claim that he had originated on Earth although his life span exceeded even that of the Barsoomians whom he had come to live among and eventually rule. His name was John Carter. He was the Warlord of all of Barsoom, a planet which he had known in his earlier life by the name Mars. No one had referred to the planet by that name in hundreds of years. It was a place name as outdated as the name Cathay would have been to people of your century.

Nomar Tomak provided for my passage aboard the great Barsoomian ship which rested on the water in San Francisco bay. The passage to Barsoom would be swift beyond the imagining of you to whom I address this tale. I would appear before the court at Helium in a mere two days.

Even at that, the journey seemed long indeed with the dark mood which ruled the ship's crew. The blackness of the space outside our ports mirrored the feelings that every Barsoomian had in his heart.

When we finally entered the atmosphere of Barsoom, I was finding that even on this sad occasion, I looked forward to seeing the wonders of Helium once more. When the city of Greater Helium with Lesser Helium in view some seventy five miles beyond came into view on the horizon, I was somewhat surprised, although in retrospect I don't know why, by the number of airships which filled the sky overhead. People had come from every corner of Barsoom to say a final goodbye to the Grand Jedarra.

Even in mourning, the Barsoomian nobility wore bright silks and glittering metal. These were a warrior people by temperament and their honored dead were given tribute by showing that the Barsoomian heart beats ever strong.

John Carter himself met me in one of the palace gardens and clasped my hand firmly. Ignoring his own grief, he inquired after the health of my father and the progress of my studies. I was always flattered by any interest the Jeddak showed in me. He had checked in on me frequently in my university days, but my awe of him never lessened. A person in the twentieth century could only imagine what knowing him was like. It was as if Julius Caesar was still alive and walked among us.

"My father is in good health," I told him, "and I have only a year before my degree is completed. I'm sure that I shall have much use for it when I become a paper ruler."

John Carter s frown made me instantly regret my flippant remark.

"Lad," he said, "even though you are to be spared the responsibility of governing your people, they shall still look to you for wisdom and as a symbol of excellence. You must not disappoint them."

I looked sheepish before the great man. "I only wish that I, like you, had earned the right to rule."

John Carter had once told me that the world had become too tame for him. He felt that he had become superfluous living among a human race that was at peace with itself. He once told me, "The title 'Warlord' has become something of a joke in the ongoing absence of war. These days it makes more sense to call me simply the First Jeddak, or Jeddak of Jeddaks, for I have become a man of politics rather than a man of the sword."

Now in these days following his greatest loss, he had become a subdued, quiet man, more given to keeping his own council rather than involving himself deeply in the day to day affairs of government. The high jeds did most of the governing these days.

He looked deep into my eyes and gave a wry smile followed by a deep sigh. "Yes, there it is, the warrior spirit. I thought it had died out among the people of my home world. Your turn will come, I can feel it and I am rarely wrong about this. Remember this. When it comes to you that you are thoroughly beaten, that you can do no more, when hope is gone check to see if you can yet draw a breath. If you can then all is not lost. You may still conquer as long as you are still alive. When you are in that dark place, say it aloud as I have had to several times even in these last few sad days, I still live!"

"I still live," I repeated. It seemed rather tepid advice from a man of such far reaching experience. I would have expected something that was a bit more of a revelation than that. Nonetheless, it had come from the Jeddak of Jeddaks so I resolved to remember it anyway.

The funeral itself drew over a half million people in the great square of Helium city with several millions more listening by wireless. Further by means of sophisticated Gridley wave transmitters, it was heard by persons on every Solar planet.

I, like every other person in the crowd, was moved deeply by the sight of the inert form of Dejah Thoris, still grandly beautiful in her eternal repose. The Barsoomian funeral, was itself a comparatively recent tradition, less than a Barsoomian lifetime ago. In the Grand Jeddara's youth, it had been the tradition for persons near death (or merely tired of life) to let themselves drift down the river Iss (they thought) into the hands of the gods. When John Carter discredited this belief , it precipitated the most important religious crisis in the history of Barsoom. In the centuries since, the Barsoomians, with some exceptions, have adopted a humanist philosophy. They recognize that, today, their symbolic acts exist for the benefit of the human population, not the gods.

As I stood with the other prominent mourners I heard a disturbance behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young woman run from the thick of the crowd with a look of mortal dread in her eyes.

John Carter also saw the girl and called out "Tamla!" It was then that I realized the girl was Tamla of Helium the eight (Barsoomian) year old thrice great grand daughter of the Jeddak. She had been well known as a difficult child and as she had grown older she had become tomboyish and positively wild. Tamla was the subject of much gossip for having taken on the habit of wearing a man's style of harness and metal. complete with real, not decorative, weapons.

The girl's disposition was of no account at this moment, however, for she was in obvious peril. John Carter had already drawn his sword as had his son, Carthoris and his close friends Kantos Kan and Tars Tarkas. All of them took a step backward, however when they saw what emerged from the crowd in pursuit of the girl. It resembled a Barsoomian Green man although its skin was a dark nut brown and its tusks pointed directly outward from its face like twin spikes. Its intermediate set of limbs were specialized as a pair of leathery wings, which, as it cleared the knot of people, it spread and began to beat vigorously. From the base of his spine emerged a long tail with a small flat fin at the end, perhaps to aid it in steering. It was almost instantly out of the reach of even the long sword of Tars Tarkas. John Carter, Tars Tarkas and the rest gave chase as the girl started to run directly toward me with the nightmarish thing a mere few feet behind her. A scant second before the girl could reach me, the flying man scooped her up and with powerful strokes of its huge wings raised himself high aloft with the girl screaming in panic firmly held in his hands. Without thinking I jumped straight upward with all the strength my legs could provide. In the Barsoomian gravity, this was enough to propel me some fifty feet and into reach of the creature's tail. Kantos Kan had drawn a powerful Barsoomian pistol, but The Jeddak stayed his hand lest he accidentally shoot Tamla or myself. I was being furiously whipped back and forth in the wind as I clung to the flying man's tail with my self preservation foremost in my mind.

Aloud I cried at the top of my lungs, "I still live!" How hard I tried to believe that that would help.

As the palace dwindled behind us, I saw a flyer rise from its roof to give chase and prayed that I could hang on long enough for it to reach us.


BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE
To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0512
Chapter 2
The Doorway

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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Volume 0511

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