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Volume 0514
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The Many Worlds of
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Presents
At the Core of Mars
By 
Seth Kallen Deitch
Copyright 1999 S.K. Deitch


Chapter Four
The Open Sea
 
We fled into a thickly forested area right behind the camp. It was not large at all, maybe a few hundred square yards. It could not be long before the jomads discovered our escape and their dead compatriot. We could expect them to be searching for us in an hour or less. The stand of trees ended abruptly at a shear cliff against which waves broke some hundred or so feet below. It looked like this was our only route off the island.

Among the strange vegetation of this forest were some of the most peculiar trees I had ever seen. This particular species grew its woody trunk in the form of a great bowl which separated into branches as it grew upward. This tree, which grew on islands in a vast salty sea had evolved a very efficient way of holding onto fresh water. Its leaves were so constructed as to direct rainwater into the great bowl shaped depression which in some of the trees formed a good sized pond. It was almost like a forest of leafy champagne glasses.

Seeing these trees gave me an idea. I knew that if we attempted to merely float away from the island on a log, we would quickly be spotted by jomads on the wing, that is, unless we could contrive some way of being invisible from the air. The unique design of this flora provided that exact thing.

Taking turns so that we might provide maximum constant effort, Tamla and I felled one of the bowl trees using her sword like an axe. The tree spilled a large amount of stinking, sludge filled water as it came down. It was our good fortune that the bowl shaped section didn't break when it hit the ground.

After trimming off the branches, using all the effort we could muster, we inched the great mass of wood up to the edge of the cliff. We then cut two logs each large enough to float one of us. First the logs and then the great wood bowl went over the cliff and started to drift out to sea. Holding hands, Tamla and I jumped after them.

It took only a few strokes in the water for us to catch up with the drifting wood.

Tamla said, looking at the cup like tree floating on the waves, "This will make a fine boat, Julian, but the jomads will see us easily."

"Not the way I have it planned."

I had her help me invert the tree trapping a large amount of air underneath and then we slid the two logs underneath as well. Finally, we ourselves followed. Now we floated on the water with a wooden dome over our heads. The tree floated rather low in the water. "Now we look just like a piece of flotsam that no one would look twice at.

It was in fact harder than it sounded. All of our strength was consumed holding the wooden camouflage upright and we had to take frequent rests from our kicking that we were using to drive ourselves forward. Furthermore, we had to stop from time to time to tip the bowl tree up to admit fresh air at the risk of exposing ourselves. This was done by one of us first swimming underneath the water just beyond out "boat" and checking the sky for jomads. Having seen that all was clear, we would tip thwe thing over to float open side up and then turn it back over trapping as much air underneath as possible. One or the other of us also had to make occasional trips outside to check our direction and look for land.

Checking our direction was problematic. We had no compass and the sky of Dhaimira had no stars by which to navigate. Tamla informed me that Dhaimiran navigators used cloud formations to find their way and they would also use powerful telescopes due to the fact that every spot in this world was visible save for that small area which was on the opposite side of the sun. While it was true that clouds at one time or another would obscure much of the surface, one could still tell, if one had the proper skills, that is, what sorts of clouds form over land and which over water. These, regrettably, were not skills possessed by either my companion or myself.

Tamla hoped to spot one of the "continents" of this world called Keltrolna. Keltrolna was actually an island which was a little larger than all of the Japanese isles put together. It was the second largest single body of land in Dhaimira. More importantly, it was mostly uninhabited.

Tamla thought she had spotted its distinctive outline on the second day of our escape and since that time we had been trying to drive ourselves in that direction. The clouds seemed to indicate that there was a current which might propel us toward it some miles ahead.

We had now spent over four days either partially or entirely submerged in water and it was draining our energy. We were able to catch, but not cook various fish and crustaceans as well as a certain type of fleshy mollusk that proved to be something of a delicacy. Tamla said it was called froi-ayk , and that it was a favorite food of the darmayoks.

I had been wondering if we would see some of these darmayoks on this journey. I wondered if I wanted to. Tamla had never met any, and therefore she could not tell me if the were prone to friendly relations or not.

My curiosity was to be satisfied with unexpected celerity.

We had reached such a distance from the island that I decided turning the tree bowl side up and getting in above the water would have benefits which would outweigh the risks. Now we were dry, but also constantly exposed to the never setting sun. For Tamla, and other red Barsoomians, this was not a great problem, for the copper colored pigment in their skins protected them from sunburn. My fair skin, however, took little time before it started to redden to an alarmingly different shade from that of the princess. I spent some time scouting about for anything that might be pressed into service as a sun shade. As luck would have it We found some floating weeds which rather closely resembled the giant kelp of Earth, which I was able to weave into an imperfect, but serviceable cover for about half the open area of our makeshift boat.

We were still, I estimated, several days away from encountering the current which we hoped would carry us to the shores of Keltrolna. Both Tamla an I were suffering from dysentery, malnutrition and the effects of exposure to the elements. The only way for us to provide any impetus at all to our voyage was to get out and push by kicking in the water, but as the days wore on, we had less and less strength to spare for that endeavor.

On what I guessed was our twelfth day out, we saw lights in the water moving in patterns. They came closer to our little craft and I could now see that the lights were some sort of glowing objects held by creatures of some sort.

I croaked to Tamla. "Darmayoks!" She lay asleep beneath the shade and I had to call to her twice more before she bestirred herself. By the time she got to the side to look over, the fish men were quite close enough for me to see the whites of their eyes. That was still a bit of a distance, but their eyes were very large.

The creatures were clearly related to men, but the features of their faces were quite inhuman. Their teeth were long and very thin and they had several closely packed rows of them. Their faces had no nose on the front but there was an opening near the crown of the head which I later would learn served that function. They had no external ears at all. Their skin was glossy white and utterly smooth and they had instead of feet, broad flippers. There was only one free toe, that being elongated and very muscular. When swimming, the darmayoks locked those two toes together fusing the feet into a single powerful fluke which could drive them through the water at great speeds. Their arms were boneless and tentacle like, dividing into fingers near the tips. The number of fingers varied from individual to individual.

Before we could count to ten, they surrounded our little craft. Being so weak from our ordeal, we made no protest as two of them pulled themselves aboard. They examined both of us closely, almost insultingly so.

After they satisfied themselves regarding our condition, one of them produced a large dipper and ladled up a generous portion of water from over the side. Into this he sprinkled a few drops of liquid from a container on a thong around he neck and then handed it to me. I started to refuse, thinking that he was ignorant of the fact that I could not drink brine when I saw something wondrous. The salt had solidified and precipitated to the bottom of the dipper. Tasting the water, I found that it was as fresh as if it had come from a mountain stream. I gave it to Tamla who drained it and another similar then I did likewise.

The darmayoks didn t speak the standard Barsoomian language although Tamla said that some of their words sounded somewhat familiar, but very archaic.

It was lucky for us that Tamla had a talent for art. Using the tip of her sword, she laboriously etched a map of the nearby regions of Dhaimira. She then marked the island of Keltrolna with an X and indicated the best estimate of our current position and drew a line to show that Keltrolna was our destination.

It took some time, but they were finally made to understand and somehow made us to understand that they intended to help us. Strangly, the fabled Barsoomian telepathic facility did not seem to work here within Dhaimira, so Tamla was restricted to what she could understand and explain in words and gestures. I remembered that Barsoomian visitors to Pellucidar and Vah-Na reported experiencing the same sort of thing. Perhaps there was some sort of radiation from the internal sun that suppressed it.

Centuries ago, scientists had learned that the internal luminous orbs of the inside worlds were not stars like the greater sun which sits at the center of our swarm of worlds. The suns of Vah-na and Pellucidar cannot be approached even in heat proof flyers. There is a barrier of violent winds of luminous gas which confuses instruments and damages ships. We do know that these orbs are quite small and cannot possibly produce their light and heat by violently smashing atoms together in the same way that the Sun does. For instance, the sun of Pellucidar has been measured to be somewhat less than one and one half miles in diameter.

The asteroid belt that fills an orbit between Barsoom and Eurobus is known to be the remains of a world whose internal sun exploded some million years ago. The event was documented by Barsoomian astronomers at the time but it was not until our modern age that the reason for the calamity was uncovered. Impressive cultures had inhabited both the inside and the outside of that world and their scientists knew in advance of the impending tragedy. Explorers from Earth and Barsoom found fragmentary records of those peoples among the asteroids and discovered that they had intended to leave their world and colonize Barsoom or Eurobus. There is no evidence that they succeeded.

The darmayoks brought up to the surface several very large fish, which they attached to our poor raft with ropes, made from woven seaweed.

These "dray fish" were to be managed like a team of horses by a darmayok who mounted the lead fish and urged the team to pull. The rest of our companions dove back into the sea and we saw them no more as the last one drove the fish and us toward the shores of Keltrolna

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To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0515
Chapter 5
An Instant of Night

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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Volume 0514

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