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Volume 0515
Jasoom  - Pellucidar - Caspak - Tarzana - Africa
BarsoomSasoomVanah - LunaAmtor - Cosoom
The Many Worlds of
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"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 5
An Instant of Night
 
Our rate of travel was greatly increased and before another two days (by my reckoning) had passed, we were in sight of the western coast of Keltrolna.

Unlike the islands that I had seen up until this point, Keltrolna appeared to be lushly forested and populated by a great variety of animals. Here, it looked like Tamla and I would be able to find food and water and plan our escape unmolested.

The darmayok bid us farewell and took his fishes back to the sea, leaving us on the shore all but naked and our only tool being Tamla's sword.

The problem of clothing was solved when we were able to ambush a couple of animals which were totally unfamiliar to Tamla, but quite commonplace to me, which made them all the more strange. They were jackrabbits of a type quite common in North America, but to the Barsoomian lass, they were exotic indeed.

We spent several hours scraping the hides to make at least some brief clothing for ourselves, although I was much more concerned with this than was Tamla who had worn the vastly more revealing Barsoomian style clothing her entire life. She told me that, since she had abandoned the silks and jewelry of women, she had no use for clothing at all except for a sturdy weapons harness. She merely tied one of the rabbit hides into a diaper like garment that held to her hip a tube made from a bamboo-like reed, which served as a scabbard for her sword. To tell the truth, I had had mixed feelings about her covering herself anyway.

I myself made a loincloth from some of the hide and then set to work cooking the meat which was tender and delicious.

We slept for the first time since our appearance in Dhaimira in shade and well fed.

I awoke with a start. We were in pitch darkness. All around were the panicked cries of the animals. Before I was even fully awake, a new light had brightened the sky, but it wasn't the sun.

Tamla touched me gently and I twitched from surprise. "Savjoda is opening a road." She whispered.

"But what happened to the sun?"

"He uses the sun somehow. Its light and heat disappears when he creates a road and then reappears as it closes. Sometimes when a road is left open for too long and then is closed, there are mighty storms for days because of the sudden change in temperature all over the world at once."

As we watched in wonder a heatless swirling light infused the whole world and a broad beam shot toward a point on the surface across the world from us. Briefly, I saw the stars through a place that was once only blue sea, then suddenly the sun was back.

"Magic?" I asked.

"That, or a science so advanced that the difference between it and magic is unimportant. He does it with a machine bigger than one of the new atmosphere plants, and that is the part of it that rests on the ground. There is also a portion of it which orbits close about the sun like a small planet. They are in contact by radio."

Five hundred years ago, John Carter had commissioned three new atmosphere plants, each three times the size of the old one. Since that time, the Barsoomian environment had been improving dramatically. It had even been said that someday the seas might come back. Those plants were the largest machines ever built, or so I had thought up until now.

"This man wields great power. Perhaps he can conquer all of Barsoom." For the first time I had doubts as to the ability of even the unified forces of all who hold allegiance to John Carter to stand up against the power of this man who could extinguish and re-light the sun at will.

Savjoda, I thought, the name sounded Barsoomian, but Tamla said he came from Earth. He controlled several branches of what could only be described as "super science." Not only could he create his own people to do his bidding and move entire populations of animals across the gulf between worlds, he could also open holes in the planet and close them at will. I got a rather serious headache when I really thought about it.

I found myself wishing again and again for my watch which had been taken from me by the metal greedy jomads. Tamla and I could have lived in that primal and beautiful land for a week or for several months and I had no way of knowing.

The jungle was filled with animals of all sorts, Earthly, Barsoomian (although some were of types thought to have been long extinct) and some which I could only assume were native to Dhaimira. The Dhaimiran animals tended to have boneless appendages that were rather tentacle-like. Nonetheless, some of them were quite fleet of foot and had great manual dexterity as well. When hunting some of them, we had to be wary of our prey flinging stones at us to discourage their pursuit. One creature in particular, we were never able to catch. It was almost the size of a man with a trio of expressive eyes set in circle on its forehead. It had six limbs which served as either arms or legs. It was covered in fine bluish hair and had a large parrot-like beak. Because it spent most of its time swinging through the trees and giving forth with loud hoots, I named it an "ape-squid". We later learned that these creatures were quite social and, where there was enough food, they would live in large colonies.

The princess of Mars and the prince of Earth were becoming comfortable denizens of the jungle. Only on occasion did my mind return to the problem of Savjoda or did I worry about the fact that we were lost in a strange world, for in many ways, this jungle was the most idyllic of homes.

Tamla and I grew to have a deep unspoken communication and that in spite of the absence of her native Barsoomian telepathy. The more time I spent with her and building a strong partnership with her, I realized that my feelings had grown beyond mere friendship. Of course, in the absence of any way to formalize such a relationship, I felt it was best to keep my own council on the subject. In retrospect, I can now see that this was a mistake.

Without my knowledge, although, I have been told many times since that I must have been a fool not to see the signs, Tamla had come to see me in much the same way that I saw her. Because of my reservations, however, she would find me remote whenever she tried to get close. Please remember that this was a young girl prone to all of the emotions that go with that condition, no matter how valiant a warrior she might also have been.

I started seeing in her behaviors for which I had no explanation. Over minor disagreements, she would suddenly become highly emotional sometimes bursting into tears and running off for hours at time.

Strangely, or so I thought at the time, the edge of conflict which had seeped into our relationship ended suddenly and without explanation.

We had caught and killed an ulsio which had been periodically raiding our campsite for food and were discussing how its hide should be used. I had thought that several strong slingshots could be made from it while Tamla insisted that we needed to use all of it to repair holes in the small tent we used for storing food. She thought this fitting since it had been that very ulsio who had chewed those holes. It not being a matter of great import, and my dearly wishing not to experience another outburst from Tamla, I decided to yield the point to her as graciously as possible.

"It shall be as you say, my princess." I said. Her reaction was most unexpected. She had been looking down at the skinned carcass of the ulsio and her head snapped up, her eyes locking on mine.

"What did you say?" she asked. She had a slight smile working at the corners of her mouth.

For an instant, I thought I had once again found a way to anger her without trying. Resignedly, I sighed deeply and said. "I'm certain that you heard me correctly the first time, my princess." It was only on their repetition that the import of my words struck me. I felt the heat of a deep blush in my cheeks. I had learned many years ago that using the term 'my princess' was a declaration of love in the old Barsoomian custom.

Although I had caught myself off guard, I also knew that I had no regrets regarding what I had said, even inadvertently.

Gathering my wits as best as I could, I asked Tamla of Helium, "Might I borrow your sword for a moment?" Without a word, she removed it from its rustic sheath and handed it to me. I hefted the weapon for a moment and then laid it at her feet.

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To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0516
Chapter 6
Geography

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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Volume 0515

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