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Volume 0513
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Presents
At the Core of Mars
By 
Seth Kallen Deitch
Copyright 1999 S.K. Deitch


Chapter 3
Jomads


 
They alit smoothly hitting the beach at a run. Both Tamla and I were well trained in meeting strangers and put on our most regal poses. Were we not of the ruling class of our respective worlds?

About fifty feet from us they slowed to a walk and the two at the outermost flanks drew pistols but didn't point them at us.

The winged men were dressed in tight fitting trousers with wide leather belts. From those belts were suspended a variety of weapons and tools, not all of which I could easily identify and none of which were made from metal. In fact, they wore no metal save for some tiny pieces that were set like jewels in bone, wood or ceramic ornaments. When standing, the wings of the jomads folded neatly against their backs giving them the look of having a curiously elongated torso. The tails were held aloft with the fin at the tip being pressed into service as a sunshade. They stood about 10 feet tall each and showed a clear relationship to the green men of the surface world in the general structure of their faces and bodies. The face of the jomads had the same large side positioned eyes and tube like ears as the green men as well as their slot like nostrils. The major difference was that their tusks pointed outward sideways from their faces or, as was the case with two of those in this group, downward and curled like a ram's horns. This was, in fact, the style of tusks worn by the one who addressed Tamla.

"Tamla of Helium. You have been returned to us, but you seem to have a new aspect about your person." The language was perfectly ordinary Barsoomian.

Tamla eyed the jomad with an arched brow. "You will find that I am not merely the soft and frightened girl you remember, Jos Gantos. I am a warrior now."

The jomad gave a deep and resonant laugh. "Savjoda will be pleased! He will acquire a little warrior as well as a wife!"

"Wife!" I exclaimed.

"So he might wish." Said Tamala in a deeply sarcastic tone.

"And Savjoda, the conqueror of Dhaimira, and very soon, Barsoom, gets what he wishes." He then looked about the beach. "Where is Ranth Lankos?"

"He has been repaid for the many insults he chose to favor me with." The princess lip was curled in contempt.

The jomad turned his eyes toward me. "You will be executed for killing a member of Savjoda's guard."

"Pardon?" I queried. I wondered just how quickly the sentence was to be carried out.

"It was I," said the princess, "that ran a blade through the brute's heart."

The jomad looked puzzled. This is the time I chose to speak up. "She killed him because he abducted her from the city of Helium against her will!"

The winged man struck me across the face and I fell to the ground. "Never." He said. "Never presume that Savjoda acts other than properly! If he commands the presence of any person, then that person must be brought into his presence."

With that, Tamla and I were lifted from the ground and into the sky by the band of jomads. Tamla was cradled in the arms of one of them while I was merely dangled by my wrists.

Thankfully the trip was only a few miles to a neighboring island.

The island was smaller than the one that we first landed on but much more densely populated. The tiny piece of land, less than a square mile, I estimated, had several hundreds of jomads milling around on it.

We were placed down among a knot of the flapping and shouting creatures. Most of them differed significantly from the members of the party which had picked us up. They were obviously female and many of them were pregnant. In this regard, they were different from all other humans on Barsoom which typically laid eggs which hatched almost fully developed young. Many of the jomad females had something that was never seen on this world, that being helpless infants at the breast.

Tamla and I were placed into a cage that had bars made from a very dense wood behind one of the tents that the jomads used for homes. We were both stripped of every metal object on our persons which left me having to hold up my trousers by hand for lack of a belt buckle and my shoes were now held on with twisted lengths of twine. Tamla, on the other hand was left virtually nude. Actually, I think in this case "naked" is the more appropriate term. She looked helpless and terrified without her harness and weapons and sat hugging herself in a corner of the cage. For the first time, she really looked like a young girl in need of my protection. The feisty posturing was gone.

"Tamla," I said. "The situation looks hopeless, we are the prisoners of a band of grotesque horrors! Furthermore, all of Barsom is soon to be overrun by the armies of this Savjoda person and no one on the surface even suspects that they exist! The only force at work to stop them is a pampered prince and a girl barely more than a child, both of whom are imprisoned in this cage whose fates are virtually sealed! I will most likely be killed and you shall be forced into a life of concubinage! " I rolled my eyes and hung open my mouth in a comic imitation of utter fear. "What would John Carter say in a situation like this?"

The girl looked up at me and cracked a slight smile through her tears. I smiled back and that was all it took for her to laugh out loud. "I still live!" she proclaimed grandly. We both laughed then, the emotional tension of our situation somewhat eased, at least for the moment.

The jomads milled about and fought over the pieces of metal which they had stolen from us. At one point a couple of rather ugly brown fish which were distinguished by having two tails each were tossed into our cage. They were uncooked and we were hungry enough not to care.

I asked Tamla to fill me in on as much as she could about Dhaimira and what was going on here.

"Savjoda has told me some things and I have picked up other parts of the story from some of the jomads.

"Dhaimira is, in many ways, a new world. Over a million years ago, the Orovars discovered it and made contact with its native civilization. The entrance at that time was beneath one of the oceans and a special ship, on which was equipped to travel underwater, was used to cross from Barsoom into Dhaimira. An Orovar general named Donak Jotar decided to make himself Jeddak of all Dhaimira and moved a great force of men into the interior world. Over a period of one hundred years, Donak Jotar's army wiped out the civilization which ruled the islands of this world. His brutality was legendary and the Orovars exiled him to Dhaimira never to return to the surface of Barsoom. Without the metals and technology of the surface world, Jotar's people fell into savagery and lost the ways of farming. All they could do to support themselves was catch fish which they had to do by hand because they had no metal hooks. As time went on, the fish learned to avoid the waters closest to the islands inhabited by these people and they were forced to swim farther and farther out to sea to catch their food. Those who could not perfect great swimming skills drowned, while those who did, lived to have many children. After many thousands of years, these people came to have webbed hands and feet and the ability to actually breath underwater. after somewhat longer, they stopped returning to land altogether. Their descendants are now known as the darmayoks or fish men. They were the only people on Dhaimira up until five hundred years ago.

"Savjoda came into Dhaimira around that time. He is a Jasoomian like John Carter and like the Jeddak, he is also ageless. He once told me that because of peculiarities of his up bringing, the specifics of which he never aquainted me with, he had never been fully comfortable with his own kind. He came here, and using the knowledge of great scientists, engineers and doctors of the past, he set out to create a world which would be his and his alone.

"He populated the islands with animals from the surface and also with animals brought from Jasoom. There are islands where the wild thoats browse side by side with elephants and where tigers compete for the same prey as banths. He has an almost Barsoomian rapport with animals. I do not believe that he actually possesses our telepathic ability, but I think he has something just as good. Even a maddened zitidar will do his bidding when he calmly asks it. To help him maintain things in this world, he used an ancient technology perfecting the work of the great Ras Thavas to create a synthetic race of caretakers, the jomads. For the first century or so, every other jomad child was a horrible monster, but ceaseless experimentation finally led him to a strain that bred true. In time he created two other races to help him build this world.

"He would visit the surface every so often to find out about the affairs of men, but rarely stayed too long, mostly because he could not afford to have John Carter find out that he was here on Barsoom and discover the existence of Dhaimira."

The girl was now becoming animated in her narrative. "I m sure that at first, his motives might have been noble, but at some point, he became consumed with his own power in this world. All in Dhaimira answered to him and he had to answer to no one. Savjoda is the god of this world."

How did this Earthman come to be on this world? How was it that men from my planet had come to have such impact on the history of Barsoom? First John Carter, then the great warrior and surgeon Vad Varo and now, it seems that this man called Savjoda has called Barsoom his home for centuries. If we could not break the bars of this cage I would soon find out.

Breaking free was the problem of the moment and the solution presented itself in an unexpected form. One of the fish which had been our meal had a length of tough sinewy fiber running along its spine. Tamla saw this and extracted it discovering in the process that no amount of pulling would part it. Stretched to its full length and pulled taught, it took on all the characteristics of a piano string.

When the lucky jomad who had become the owner of her sword came by to check on us, he saw Tamla lying supine clutching her stomach. I called to him. "Help! One of the fish must have been poisonous! Please help her!"

"This is just a trick," said the jomad.

At this point I was called upon to do some of my best acting. "Yes. Of course, why should care? She is Savjoda's bride, not yours." I saw all of his thought processes reflected in an instant on that ugly face. He had a very clear idea as to what form Savjoda's wrath might take. He cautiously reached in through the bars to poke Tamla gently with the sword. It was at that moment Tamla sat up and threw the length of fish gut with one end weighted with a bone from the fish to loop around the jomad's arm. I grabbed the other end and both Tamla and I pulled with all our might.

The jomad's hand, sword and all, was neatly severed from his wrist which started fountaining blood. His bellow of shock and pain was cut short when I picked up the fallen sword and ran it through his throat.

As quickly as we could, we chopped through the bars. In a short time, we both stood again unrestrained on the ground. As I had lost my belt buckle, I found it convienient to discard my trousers and in their place fashioned a short kilt from the fabric of my shirt. My shoes, also useless without their buckles, I threw out as well. I was now almost as naked as Tamla, but what little garment I had, I could move in without danger of tripping.

Our next problem would be to find our way off the island before the jomads noticed that we had gotten free.

BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE

To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0514
Chapter 4
An Instant of Night

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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SETH
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Volume 0513

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