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


Chapter Fourteen
The Tube
 
The darmayok city was designed for the comfort of inhabitants who lived in water and yet breathed air.

The city was like a great tree who’s highest branches were snorkels that actually breached the surface of the Dhaimiran ocean. These tubes reached to the deepest depths where pressures were high. For the air to reach the bottom at breathable density, it had to be compressed by powerful pumps.

Dhaimira had no metals to speak of, therefore the pumping apparatus had to be made in a fashion quite different from how it might be on Earth. The pumps were living organisms that hung from the branches of the city like huge, throbbing fruit. Their remote ancestors were a variety of fish that defended itself from its enemies by inflating its body to a huge size, thus alarming predators. The current form of the animal is wholly sessile, living its life permanently attached to the branching structure. Its sides slowly pulse in and out to supply atmosphere to the depths. This filled the city with a soft, wet, breathy beating. It was this sound that formed the background to every other sound in the city.

Savjoda sat at a table pondering over a cup of coffee that one of the Waziri had served him. It astounded me that this man had the presence of mind to bring along not only the coffee, but the rather elaborate apparatus needed for its preparation. I and John Carter had accepted a cup gratefully as had Tamla, but she took a single sip and put the cup aside with a disgusted expression. Fomas-67 was off somewhere with Ras Thavas and Gosmasokamankgo, the Minunian scientist.

"It has always been my single vice." Said Savjoda, as he savored the black liquid.

"Well and good", said I, "but perhaps we should think of something beside indulging our vices."

"Prince Julian", sad John Carter, "much has transpired and perhaps we should take time to clear our minds for the battle which lies ahead."

It was at that point that Fomas-67 entered the room with Gosmasokamankgo and Ras Thavas at his side.

Savjoda looked up at the bizarre creature with weary expectation. "So, my old friend, what have you to say? What do we need to know to proceed further?"

The doyak spoke without preamble to Savjoda. "We have encouraged the development of the various worlds of the Solar system with ‘catalyst persons’, mostly from the planet Earth. If only all had worked out as well as John Carter did for Barsoom." He gestured toward John Carter in what might have been the doyak equivalent of a nod. " You were the person originally designated for Pellucidar. Our plans changed when Abner Perry and David Innes discovered that world on their own. You were left on your own until we needed you. The first Earth person designated for Amtor, a young woman named Betty Callwell, was a failure. She developed mental problems and forgot who she was. She was returned to Earth after being replaced by Carson Napier, but, unfortunately, she did not survive the trip.

"To Rasoom, we sent an American soldier named William Heller who was blinded in your second World War. He was sent into pitch-dark Kivu and became its hero and eventually, its ruler. Kivu was a world where the sense of sight did not exist, but there were two senses that didn’t exist on Earth, Barsoom or Amtor. His ability to utilize these senses and his previous training as a swordsman led him to bring that world into a new age.

"We even experimented with the development of farther worlds. The human who came to be known as Tangor was brought to a world so far from our solar system that the light from its sun would take over 200,000 Barsoomian years to reach us.

"It was never planned for you to come into Dhaimira, or, for that matter, for Dhaimira to even be discovered by men for Earth or Barsoom for at least another thousand years.

"You forced us to change our plans when the Kalkars invaded Earth. We were impressed by your desire to preserve the animals of your home planet. Pellucidar was only temporarily useful for that purpose, so we took a great risk and made it possible for you to enter Dhaimira. We had ourselves preserved many of the creatures of ancient Barsoom and Vah-Nah in lands we no longer used ourselves. Our own population has been purposely kept small in modern times. The last time a doyak was born was over five hundred years ago. We need little space for ourselves.

"With that having been done, we sat back and watched. We allowed you to become familiar with the work of Ras Thavas and you created the yomanas, the sopars and the jomads."

Wait a minute." I said, "What are yomanas and sopars?"

Savjoda answered. "Sopars were an artificial race which were designed to protect me from the doyaks before I knew they meant me no harm. They combined features of lions and humans. The doyaks destroyed them. The yomanas are intelligent beings that are built on the same plan, more or less, as Earth’s elephants. They live in Keltrolna. Their job was to clear land and manage herds that were brought from Earth."

There were a few moments of silence in which the city breathed steadily.

"Be that as it may," continued Fomas-67, "We made a mistake in allowing you to make a home here. Dhaimira needed no catalyst person of its own and you could not help being one."

It was Tamla who spoke up this time. "He can’t stay, can he?"

"No. He cannot. Nor can he return to Earth."

Savjoda looked thoughtful. "Fomas-67, you are an old friend, you may speak freely. What is to be my punishment?"

"You must undo, as much as possible, the damage you have done. You must leave Dhaimira and not return to any of the worlds in Terrestrial or Barsoomian influence."

"Or?"

"Or you shall be ‘retired’."

Never has such an innocuous word sounded so ominous.

John Carter said, ‘You are saying that his usefulness to the doyak master plan is at an end. Surely you must recognize that he has a life outside of your uses for him!"

Savjoda spoke before Fomas-67 could reply. "No, John Carter. He is right. My whole life has felt the force of some sort of guidance. Wherever I have been, I have been master of my world but that world has also been master of me. It has always been clear that I am part of something greater. Surely you have also felt this, that even though you serve no master, you serve some cause that perhaps you cannot even name."

"I’m satisfied that you understand, Savjoda."

"Yes, I understand. My first job, which will require the assistance of all here, is to stop the jomads."

Ras Thavas said, "Gosmasokamankgo, who was kind enough to teach me his language, has collaborated with me on a few methodologies which might be of great aid in achieving that end. I trust that the ‘road machine’ will still work?"

"It will," Said Savjoda, "but its Minunian engineers must first be restored to their normal size to operate it."

Gosmasokamankgo said something in his polysyllabic language. Ras Thavas said, "My associate informs me that that has already been accomplished."

We worked on our plans for many hours. Occasionally a darmayok would appear with food, usually fish, always raw, but with wonderful sea herbs. It was remarkably similar to a way I enjoyed fish on my home world, right down to the seaweed wrapper.

There were only two flyers. It turned out that there were only three in all of Dhaimira and our party had two of them. They would be enough to get al of us through a road onto the surface of Barsoom. The Minunian engineers would stay behind, but in touch via Gridley wave, to run the great machine.

It took a little time to make all preparations. At one point Tamla and I were sent to the top of one of the snorkel tubes to check for patrolling jomads. The way up the tube was a strange journey, to say the least. The interior of the darmayok city was lit with biological organisms who were naturally phosphorescent. This gave everything a peculiar greenish tint that made even my beautiful princess appear somewhat sickly.

The segment of the city that was one of the snorkels was a large open area under a cone-shaped roof. This court was some hundred and fifty yards across. A spiral ramp ran around the wall providing for a gentle ascent. As we made our way upward, we looked down upon hundreds of darmayoks going about various tasks, many of which we could not comprehend. One portion of the floor below was a garden of mushroom like plants from which, we learned, was made the mysterious water de-salting agent that the first darmayoks we had met gave us.

As we neared the apex of the cone, we perceived that it narrowed to a tube that ran to the surface of the ocean. The construction of this snorkel led to some rather interesting acoustics. When the aperture at the surface was opened, the wind blowing across it could make it behave like a huge, deep organ pipe. If all were opened, the entire city could sound a single, mighty chord. The darmayoks associated this sound with good omens.

The inside of the tube was about six feet wide with horn-like projections from the walls that served as a ladder. The tube itself was rather peculiar, with walls that seemed to be covered in moist flesh. The projections that were our footholds resembled teeth emerging from the gums of some great animal. There was a strong, but not overly objectionable odor that permeated the air in the tube. To me it smelt like crab shells and bird feathers.

The sound from the organic pumps was greatest here in the tube. It made a constant roar that, while not overly loud, still seemed to have the ability to mask out all other sound and made conversation between Tamla and myself nigh impossible.

We had to climb about two hundred feet before we reached the first valve. It was pink, fleshy and tightly puckered evoking only the most unpleasant of associations in my mind. I had been instructed in the method of opening it, which involved stroking a purple patch on the wall immediately below it. We passed through to have it instantly shut behind us, and saw another valve twenty feet above. In toto, we were required to pass through six valves before reaching the surface. The surface was, in fact, something of a surprise, for the opening simply looked like another of the valves we had passed through, except that this one admitted brilliant sunlight upon opening.

I looked out to find that the tube extended some ten feet above the water line. Both Tamla and I savored the fresh air of the surface. On the outside, the tube resembled weathered wood and hung with seaweed. WE could see no jomads, even with the aid of a powerful telescope lent us by Ras Thavas. If they did not know of this city and knew not of our presence here, then they must truly have been bewildered by our disappearance.

We left the telescope at the top of the tube along with a device to convey images from it remotely to a device constructed by Ras Thavas and Gosmasokamankgo. In that way we could know if any jomads ever approached the city.

Having accomplished this task, we returned to the depths of the sea, hopefully to carry out the final portion of the plan.

BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE

Continued in ERBzine 0525


Seth Kallen Deitch
Seth Kallen Deitch
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Volume 0524

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