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Volume 0519
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Presents

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


Chapter 9
The Troubled Sky
 
Tamla and I were provided with clothing in the form of loose fitting shirts and tight fitting trousers not unlike those worn by the jomads only of a size and cut to fit our bodies. We and Fomas-67 were escorted by several other doyaks to a flyer on the flat roof of the largest of the buildings. The flyer was clearly of Barsoomian design, but the controls were all marked in English, an archaic language from earth, the handiwork of Savjoda, no doubt. To our surprise, Fomas-67 returned the sword to Tamla before we set off. He was, I am certain, quite able to take it from her again if she tried anything.

The doyak physician handled the flyer expertly and brought us to a very great height as we left the island of Penshodai behind us. We were heading in the direction of southern Geprodna where I had spotted something that looked like it might be a city when Tamla and I were engaged in our "astronomical" studies. I was smugly pleased that I seemed to have been right about that location's importance.

The flyer hurtled through the sky at incredible speed and it seemed that we would be in the presence of the man who stood at the center of these strange events when the unexpected transpired. The sun went out.

Fomas-67 made a rumbling noise deep within his torso signaling, no doubt, his disorientation. The disorientation was shared by all of us, for we could not tell up from down, the entire world had gone black. When we saw the "road" appear emerging from where the sun once was, we realized that we were descending toward the sea in a spiral.

Once there was a source of light, Fomas-67 was able to straighten out our flight path. He said, "Something is amiss. Savjoda usually keeps our community apprised as to when he opens a road. This opening is unscheduled.

Tamla was still catching her breath from the tailspin. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"I'm not certain. Perhaps some kind of emergency prompted the need or perhaps Savjoda is no longer in control of the machinery. We cannot be sure until we reach his city."

Blue Barsoomian sky appeared momentarily where once there was a patch of sea and then once again they were plunged into darkness. In a few seconds, the sun again ignited. Fomas-67 decided to continue toward the western coast of Geprodna so that we might find out what had happened.

It wasn t, it turned out, going to be that simple.

They were just dots at first, mere flyspecks in the distance, but they quickly resolved into clarity. Jomads in a "V" formation like migrating geese on Earth. Fomas-67 quickly turned the flyer to avoid the flock and we immediately saw that another was approaching us from the left, only this one was much closer, less than half a mile distant.

The speed of the flying jomads was unexpectedly swift. They were almost upon us in a matter of seconds. Fomas-67 turned the flyer toward them with the intent of ramming his way through. Two jomads were killed instantly as the flyer's prow struck them but we were boarded by two more who drew pistols. Tamla drew her sword only to have it struck from her hand by a jomad. It dropped to the bottom of the flyer with a ringing clatter. Another jomad fired his pistol into the instrument panel of the flyer destroying it utterly. The flyer instantly started spinning. One of the jomads seized Tamla and lifted her from the disabled flyer as she kicked and cursed them. We were ignored as soon as they had Tamla. The jomads flew off, completely indifferent to our plight as we plummeted to the sea.

I watched helplessly as the jomads disappeared into the distance with my true love, indeed, the anguish caused by that sight momentarily made me forget that I had only seconds remaining in my life, for the sea was rushing up at the crippled flyer with alarming speed. Fomas-67 had not given up. He was tearing into the ruined guidance mechanism with deft and swift movements of his boneless hands. We were a mere fifty feet above the rolling ocean when the mechanism of the flyer suddenly sprang back to life throwing the both of us off our feet. Our descent was slowed enough that we hit the water only softly and then started to rise again. The flyer was only able to stay about five feet above the water and move forward at only a snail's pace, but it would get us to an island alive, which was decidedly better than the alternative.

Three days later, we arrived at a large island that Fomas-67 identified as Omporoi, once the home of an important doyak nation. Its inhabitants had been wiped out in a war that had taken place over fifty thousand years before. Fomas-67 believed that Savjoda now used it as a preserve for otherwise extinct animals.

The flyer failed us while we were still a mile off shore and came to rest on the surface whereupon it started taking on water. We could not allow it to sink or we would be stranded. Even if we could not repair it, the metal in it could be used for tools and/or trade given that there was none to be found elsewhere in Dhaimira. We therefore, had to get out and swim while bearing it up until our feet could touch bottom.

We dragged the flyer as high onto the pebbly beach as we could before we took in out surroundings. This island was unfamiliar to the doyak who, although well versed in the wonders of the greater cosmos, had traveled little on his own world save for trips from one major enclave to another. It turned out that his chauffeuring Tamla and I to Geprodna was the first lengthy trip he had made in over one hundred years.

To our right was a forest of broad leafed trees including the ubiquitous cup trees found, it seems, all over Dhaimira's islands. To our right was a broad savanna that reached many miles into the distance. At a point which would have been over the horizon had we been on the surface, that savanna again gave way to forest and then, once more, the sea.

I retrieved Tamla's sword and determined to find a meal. Fomas-67 agreed that we needed food so we set out into the savanna. I had seen in the distance, what looked a lot like wildebeest, and I thought that I might be able to bring one down. Fomas-67 was entirely unversed in the art of hunting and his inhuman odor, while barely noticeable to myself, seemed to be quite alarming to the animals. I urged him to return to the beach and allow me to fetch dinner on my own. He agreed and I was left to stalk the herd without causing undo commotion.

About two minutes after he had left I heard a loud and strange sound that could only have come from the doyak. It was rather like a combination of a bell ringing and a cricket chirping. I turned around and was greeted with a singularly unnerving sight. Fomas-67 was surrounded by five of the most fearsome creatures I had ever set eyes on. They were four legged and covered with bristly spotted fur. Their eyes shined with an unnatural light and their fanged mouths slavered with an insatiable lust for blood. They gave forth with voices that sounded like some demonic gibbering. They were an apparition form an earlier age, a horrid creature thought to have been extinct for hundreds of years. When they had lived on my world, they were known as hyena.

By the time I was able to reach him, he was surrounded. Considering that he was completely unarmed, he gave quite a good account of himself. His tentacles functioned as effective whips that allowed him to keep the hideous beasts at a distance.

I was gasping for breath as I came up behind on of the yipping horrors. I struck off its tail with swipe from the keen-edged sword. The monster let forth a frightful ululation and turned upon me with the intent to instantly punish me. With all my might, I drove the point of the sword between the evil thing's eyes. The others had seen the brief battle and quickly left Fomas-67 for their new foe, but when they saw my swift dispatch of their fellow, they reacted not with a need for vengeance, but set upon its still twitching corpse tearing it to pieces.

Fomas-67 and I fled as the creatures quarreled over gobbets of their brother's flesh. Killing that beast didn't require any great feats of swordsmanship, only the nerve to do it. Heaven only knew what else might be required of me during our sojourn on this island. I tarried for a moment to look once more upon the beasts as they savaged the corpse of their own kith and kin, praying that it would be the worst I would see.

Over time, we discovered that the African veldt that once was still existed here. Prides of lions hunted zebras and wildebeest and herds of elephants made there way there just as in ages past.

When the Kalkars first came to Earth, the larger animals were among the first casualties. Their home world was starving to death and cannibalism had been the only source of meat for a very long time. The large animals of Africa and the great cattle herds of the Americas were decimated. Many of the African animals were driven into extinction. Apparently Savjoda had rescued many from oblivion. How, I was not certain at the time. There would come a time when I would find out.

Fomas-67 was able to repair the flyer well enough for us to use it over short distances. It was indispensable for transporting lumber and for getting us to where game could be found.

Our life fell into a certain monotony and time was slipping away while I had no idea as to the fate of Tamla. We found that our differences made our life in this place somewhat uneasy. It turned out that Fomas-67 could not abide the odor of human beings and continued close quarters with me made him irritable. I, on the other hand, could not bear to watch him eat, a process that involved his everting his stomach through an opening in his torso and digesting his meal outside of his body.

Fomas-67 spent almost all of his time attempting to repair the flyer with the little resources we had while I applied myself to hunting. I constructed a bow and some arrows, as a sword was not the ideal implement for bringing down game.

The sky had darkened for the opening of a road several times since we had been marooned. Fomas-67 speculated that Savjoda no longer had any semblance of control of the equipment, for he had never used it that often before. I wondered in horror at the possibility of jomads swarming the skies of Earth. I mention this now because on one occasion that it happened, I had almost failed to make special note of it other than to curse the foul weather it heralded. When I looked up into the blackness, however, I was startled to see the road opening up onto our island. The weird, halo-like opening in the air drifted down to the surface less than a mile from me. I could not see what, if anything, emerged from the road before the sun suddenly flashed back to life. I had been so transfixed by the sight of the road that I was caught by surprise and was temporarily blinded by the sun. I called at the top of my lungs for Fomas-67. With the swiftness that was characteristic of his species, he was at my side in less than a minute.

As my vision cleared I beheld an uncanny sight. In the distance was a small herd of very tiny antelope that stood no more than fifteen inches high at the shoulder, but that by itself faded into insignificance beside the fact that these antelope had equally diminutive human riders.

For as much as I could tell, Fomas-67 was not as thunderstruck as I to see this, although his expressions remained difficult for me to read. We had naught to do but stand fast as the miniature riders approached. They almost ignored me as they came to a stop in front of us, but the apparent leader of the band, who wore something resembling a rather normal Earth-style military uniform, walked directly up to Fomas-67 and addressed him in a rolling polysyllabic language with which I was unfamiliar.

The doyak was taking it all in. "What in Heaven s name is he saying?" I demanded.

Fomas-67 turned to me and said, "He said Lord doyak, we have found you and the prince from Earth at last. Zuanthrol greets you, but, sadly, also requires your help."

"And who, pray tell, is Zuanthrol ?"

"It is the name by which these people refer to Savjoda."

"Very well, and who are these tiny persons and where do they come from?"

As far as I could tell, Fomas-67 was now wearing an expression of surprise.

"They are Minunians, Julian. They are from your own home planet!"

BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE

To be continued in next week's ERBzine 0520
Chapter 10
Several Views

Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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SETH
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Volume 0519

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