I. Mars was never made
The planet’s low mass ensured that the planetary core
had cooled and without a viscous molten-iron core to generate a Van-Allen
Belt, the solar radiation struck the planetary surface without mercy, condemning
the unprotected to a nasty but quick death by skin cancer.
That same lack of mass caused the atmosphere to leak away
despite the work of the main atmosphere plant built dozens of thousands
of years ago to replace the air lost to space. Since the disaster
of the 1870s (Earth time) where both Atmosphere Attendants had died and
almost took the planet with them, most nations had, for once, banded together
to build a second Atmosphere Plant near the Artolian Hills and a third
near Horz. But still, a Human on Earth could breath three miles above
sea level, on Mars, you would be lucky to survive three thousand feet.
And the air, such as it was, had too much Carbon-Dioxide
for human lungs which resulted in an almost constant migraine. Added
to the cold and thinness of the air, pneumonia among Humans on Mars was
as common as … well, if you didn't cough up green slime every other month,
you weren't on Mars.
As the atmosphere leaked away, the evaporation and boiling
point of water lowered, causing the seas to vanish, the remaining
water being locked into the soil with a little of that evaporated water
freezing at the poles before it vanished into space. Thus water was
constantly vanishing from the ever growing desert planet.
And the 38% gravity robbed human bones of calcium and
human muscles of strength so within months, you would be as weak as a baby
were you to return to Earth. Any tourist would spend too much time
in the gym stressing their body and drinking calcium-rich drinks to barely
survive. Fortunately, the mantilla was calcium-rich but that didn't
slow the anemia heart degeneration that slowly destroyed the human body
And if that wasn't enough, the biology was.. wrong.
It was a coin-flip if the biological molecules that produced
Carbon-based life would be left-hand like Earth or right-hand like half
the other worlds in the galaxy. Mars had left-hand molecules but
the exact molecules were often wrong. The Martians used Potassium
Chloride instead of Sodium Chloride and many of the spices used for cooking
were poisonous to Humans. So a diet on Mars was often deadly or bland,
Mantilla Milk and Soropus being the staple for non-Martians with the occasional
reptile that could be safely digested… in small amounts. Even the
Martian wine ate its way through a Human system causing intoxication but
within an hour, your stomach would cramp and your stools would be greeninsh-water.
Getting drunk on Mars was not fun.
Life had evolved or arrived on Mars some 23 million
years ago, or so the Red Men believed, back when the planet had somehow
developed oceans of liquid water. Since then that narrow window was
closing and Mars was returning to its long-dead past. Life on Mars
would be extinct in another hundred thousand years, if it managed that
long. Only the supreme efforts of the Red Men had kept the planet
alive this long and even their efforts were failing.
So how did Humans survive when they first arrived how
many millennia ago? That was the question that Eibhlin asked
often and the answer was that most did not. Occasionally a human
body would be found in the Great Desert. But the number of humans
who had arrived and managed to survive was… very small.
And those that managed to reproduce children that lived was very small.
Modern Barsoomians lived only because their ancestors had simply adapted
to the problems and forced the planet to tolerate them.
She had met Vad Varo once. Formerly Ulysses Paxton
of America who had died in The Great War of 1917 and been, somehow, transported,
intact and healthy, to Barsoom. But that was only a reprieve,
not a pardon, and the planet was killing him. He aged as a Human
would, and between age and the planet, he was already dead. He just refused
to admit it for Ras Thavas, the Mastermind of Mars, spent a great deal
of time and energy keeping him alive. Though most agreed that the
Mastermind's efforts were more self-centered than altruistic for Paxton
was the only person Ras Thavas trusted. And that trust allowed Ras
Thavas to continue to live for he needed a doctor as did everyone else,
only Ras Thavas had made mistakes and only the Earthman had never betrayed
the Mastermind so Ras Thavas went to great trouble to keep Vad Varo alive.
Vad Varo, as he preferred to be called, had been in communication
with a Canadian on Earth, a Professor Valdron, and between the two had
decided that the Martian race had originally come from Earth long ago by
a means similar to that which brought John Carter, Ulysses Paxton and possibly
even Eibhlin Ui Bhrian herself to the Red Planet. The two believed
that Man had died on Earth and been astral-transported to Mars where a
new body had, somehow, materialized for their use. Most had died
but some very few hardy individuals had managed to survive and breed and
adapt, eventually producing the three main ‘Human Races’ of Mars, adapted
to that planet. Eibhlin was a technician, not a medical person so
understood little of what he told her but she walked away wondering if
the original humans had appeared as Barsoomians (according to the Canadian)
or had adapted and evolved into the Barsoomian (according to the American).
She herself had appeared as her now ‘normal’ Weir self and not as she had
been born in Ireland in 1635. Personally, Eibhlin believed that the
creation of a physical body for those souls who Transited to Mars was proof
of the existence of God. The fact that the dead reanimated on Mars
instead of Heaven proved the existence of Satan. Or that God was
a real sick bastard. Being an Irish Catholic, she could easily accept this
Vad Varo had described a dozen Earthlings who had appeared
on Barsoom, John Carter being only the most famous and successful.
He mentioned a dozen more that had been found, dead, and he had shown her
the bodies that he and Ras Thavas kept in storage for experimental and
research purposes. It was unspoken that they also were organ donors
for Vad Varo. Eibhlin found the idea of all those unfortunate people who
had died on Earth and been transported to Mars for a second chance.. a
second chance that ended on a slab in a medical research facility, to be
sad and so refused to return.
So now she wandered the streets of Amhor, taking in the
sights for Amhor had been built on a plateau that was once an underwater
island but the city was still low enough for her to breathe. She
had heard that Helium, that Twin Jewel of the South, had a tower in each
city, a tower that rose a mile high. She had wondered if the tower
was enclosed to contain air or had pumps forcing air the entire height
or if the Barsoomian body was simply able to breathe in air that would
suck the lungs from an Earthling's chest. Did John Carter visit those
towers and if so, did he wear a space suit or O2-mask? But then,
John Carter was an anomaly. A Human who refused to follow Human rules.
A self-proclaimed immortal, he claimed to have always
been 30-ish and remembered years of war, constantly unchanging. But
how old he was, even he did not know. He had fought in the American
War Between the States and probably as far back as the American Revolutionary
War… maybe even further? He remembered fighting under General Muhlenberg
in Virginia and before that… almost nothing for his earliest memories were
of being a thirtyish fighting man a century before he wrote of his adventures
on Mars, which would perhaps make him a veteran of the War of 1812.
She never met the man so couldn't ask. But it would be interesting.
She still had a few more days in Amhor before she had
to return to Ptarth so she looked over the city.
Amhor was a small kingdom that was based on a former island
across the straight from the Toonol Highlands that helped establish the
Toonolian Marshes. It was mostly rock and moss but as the seas receded,
Amhor followed the slope into the rich loam of the sea bottom. Lacking
the Green Hoards of the Southern Highlands, they were able to establish
broad farms on the dead sea-bed and as the Waterways were built, Amhor
took control of two of them, eventually building a couple subject cities
along the waterways to the east. Today, Amhor was a wealthy
farming nation that exported food and meat-thoats that they raised in the
rich sea beds near the Waterways and lowland farms, the most valuable being
on the plateau itself, reserved for the farms and ranches of the Nobles
She entered an eating establishment and placed her order
by touching buttons on a menu, noting also her table, then sat and waited.
Water, mantilla milk and unflavored sorapus mash for it was rare when she
could find a meal she enjoyed. Then she opened the cylinder that
Vad Varo had given her and took her daily pills. Vitamins to replace
what Martian food could not, counter-agents for the toxins the Red Men
tolerated but she could not and others. She hated Mars.
Her meal arrived via an opening in the table, prepared,
cooked and delivered without human touch. It was a totally automated
establishment but she missed the waiters and waitresses that even star-spanning
worlds found desirable. She ate, slowly, not savoring the meal for
it had no flavor, but she smelled the meals of the other customers and
pretended that was her own meal she smelled. She also pretended that
the Red Men and Women around her were not staring at her alien features
and weapons. Women on Mars never went about armed and female Panthans,
mercenaries, were very rare. Plus the only other known Race on Mars
were the Green Men who would not visit Amhor so she attracted attention
because of her tail, feet, hands and eyes. At least the Vanthi, descended
from British Saxons but now a dozen thousand light-years away, rarely stared
because any race that possessed interstellar travel, quickly got used to
aliens. Mars did not. His (Earth was female, Mars was male)
only Visitors were from Earth and they could pass for natives with little
effort. Eibhlin could not.
God she hated Mars.
She walked to the stables and saddled her thoat, a much
larger and hardier plow beast than what was ridden by the Red Men. Eibhlin
was short, barely a couple inches over five feet and so looked up to even
the Red Women, but her body had evolved on Earth and so her bones and muscles
were denser and heavier than that of any Red Man. (one Red Man, a
foot larger than she, had struck her, breaking his fist upon her chin,
she barely receiving a painful bruise, though the blow had knocked her
to the floor) Plus when the Demons had abducted her, they made her
stronger and, heavier so she could easily break the fragile back of a normal
riding thoat, her thoat was a throwback to the earlier stock from which
the Red Men bred their modern beasts. Larger and stronger, it was
a monster by Red Man standards though still a runt when compared to those
rode by the Green Men. Riding the thing, she felt like when she was a child
in Ireland mounted upon the horse her father had given her. Still,
she could ride it for hours before her weight tired the beast and forced
her to walk it. Even a creature evolved to run for days across the
Martian landscape tired under her mass.
Four Waterways connected at Amhor, each having a massive
pumping station at the base of the plateau to force the water up to the
city. Then the water crossed the plateau and fell to the next station
that forced the water south into the Toonol Hills and west into Ptarth.
On Earth the exiting stations would generate electricity to power the rising
pumps. On Mars, nuclear power, Radium power, did that cheaper, safer
and with far more power. Eibhlin avoided these as well for
the as Red Man had adapted to the constant UV bombardment, they had also
developed a certain immunity to Radiation sickness and so Radium Reactors
were poorly shielded.
Even in wartime, Amhor continued to send water to their
enemies, a situation that she found unexplainable. If Amhor were
at war with Ptarth, why not close the waterways and force them to Terms
through starvation and thirst? Or toss a couple long-dead thoats
into the waterway to poison Ptarth? Such actions were common in Europe
and her own grandfather had built a catapult to throw dead and diseased
pigs into English strongholds to spread Plague amongst the invading ranks.
But Barsoom had honor in their wars. Amhor and every
other nation would continue to send clean water downstream even to their
enemies. If a Red Man attacked you with a revolver and you drew your
short-sword, your attacker would holster his revolver and draw his own
short-sword to meet you on equal terms. In Ireland, if a British
soldier did that, she would have shot him dead without a thought.
But Eibhlin had spent enough time on enough different planets to no longer
concern herself with local customs. It was enough that she obeyed
them and so, prevented being stoned or lynched.
Thus her current dress… or undress. She would rather
be wearing her Spacers jump-suit or even the long dress that she wore in
Ireland. But here, she wore what the locals wore which was almost
nothing. At least, in Amhor, and thanks to Vad Varo who had encouraged
fashion change in his adopted Amhor and her Allies, Eibhlin was able to
cover her breasts. In Ptarth, which saw being topless as fashionable,
she was always.. pointing… in the cold. And at 45 degrees north latitude
(about Northern Italy or the great Lakes of America), Winter was painful
Eibhlin attracted attention a lot! Born human in
Ireland in 1635, she had been raped and killed by British soldiers when
she was seventeen and immediately afterwards, her body was taken by alien
Demons, changed and then reanimated simply because the aliens needed someone
to repair their ship and she was convenient.
Were she still human, she could pass for native, were
she to dye her skin. But now, with pointed ears, cat eyes (they called
them banth eyes), moth-like antennae, an extra thumb where her smallest
finger used to be, a three-foot prehensile tail and ape feet, she couldn't
hide her new anatomy and so stuck out. Plus the Demons had increased
her bust from her normal small B to a large C or small D (by American terms)
which she disliked. Not that they gave her back-ache, her new body
prevented that and kept them firm for the centuries of her new life.
And in this 1/3g, even floppy breasts would firm up as if they were floating
in water. No, they simply got in the way sometimes and on a
planet where few women had anything to fill a training bra, she was seen
as obscenely large like that porn film she once watched on Earth.
The one where all the women had so much silicon shoved into their chests
that they could barely stand up, yet happy to service that .. man who was
as large as a horse. Did the words, ‘too much’ mean anything to those
Well, the fact that she wore a male harness modified to
be slightly feminine and weapons didn't help either. On Earth, in
Ireland, women wore dresses and men wore pants and only men carried a sword.
In America, women wore feminized pants and feminized shirts (mostly) which
her Irish upbringing told her was like being a transvestite. Here
they thought the same, a female dressed as a man. A female upsetting
convention and playing at being a man. A female messing with tens
of thousands of years of tradition.
Only her being an Alien helped. Aliens like her
were seen as being barbarians and so not knowledgeable of proper fashions.
So they tolerated her… but only barely, staring openly and snickering behind
her back. And the fact that she was easily four times as strong as
any Red Male, faster and could jump over their heads easily, only forced
She left the city, the guards looking over her identity
papers as an excuse to stare. Aside from Vad Varo and a few escaped
Hormads from Toonol a few decades ago, they saw only Red Men. The
occasional Thern Panthan didn't count and even those usually wore black
or brown wigs now to blend in. Eibhlin’s white skin and black
hair also confused the locals for White skin and brown hair indicated a
lost White Race, the original Orovars, white skin and baldness or blonde
wig indicated a Thern but black hair belonged to the Red, Yellow and Black
“Are you leaving Amhor?” the guard asked, his fellows
“No, I am just playing tourist.”
“Tourist? I don't understand the word?”
She had used the English word for neither the Irish-Gaelic
of her time nor Barsoomian had any such concept. “I like to see new
things so I am going for a ride to look over your city.” She explained.
“Like a spy?” he said cautiously. Though an adequate
swordswoman, her curved and guardless sword had been made by aliens and
was stronger than any forundus steel blade they owned. Plus her Beamer
could easily cut them all down in a second but killing them would cause
her and Ptarth trouble.
Sighing, “No, not a spy. Panthans, many panthans,
travel because they are bored with their homes and want to see new places.
I cannot go home so I travel and see new things.” Seeing their look
of incomprehension, she tried again. “Do you eat the same meal every day?
You enjoy eating different meals. To me, seeing new cities and scenery
is like a meal. I travel to taste new sights, see new people, make
They still didn't understand but let her go. She
was, after all, a ‘warrior’ of the House of Far of the Jeddakate of Ptarth
and so under diplomatic protection. To cause her trouble would be
to have to explain to the Jed of Amhor why the Jeddak of Ptarth (one of
the planet’s great superpowers) was angry with Amhor (which it could crush
so easily). So Eibhlin mounted her thoat and wandered off across
The land was rocky, mostly brown with sparse moss here
and there, being grazed by the herds of thoats that roamed the land.
She stopped and watched one herd, obviously bred for eating, nervously
move away. The size of her thoat triggered the instinct to avoid
for the smaller thoats were often killed by banths and even the larger
wild thoats that were ridden by the Green Hoards.
Still, there were no hoards this far north. They remained
in the southern highlands.. mostly. Of course, when she had first
arrived on Barsoom, she had met and killed two members of the Huntdoon
Hoard, a smaller Green hoard that had been pushed north to the area around
Koal by their larger and crueler neighbors. Still, there was the
entire Toonol Marsh to act as a buffer and keep the Huntdoon localized.
She rode off, north this time until she found the waterway
that led from the northern pumping station to feed Amhor. Being the main
one into the city, the waterway was huge. Buried deep underground,
water was siphoned off to feed the miles wide belt of food crops that followed
almost every waterway on Barsoom. As the water was fed directly to
the roots, none was lost and the idea of an open aqueduct was unknown on
Mars. Eibhlin waved to the workers as the Nobles assigned
to guard these valuable areas moved to stand between her and they.
Had she moved towards the farmlands, they would have intercepted her but
so long as she rode alongside, the guards were content to follow at a distance.
For all she knew, they may not even recognize her as a woman or alien at
A number of the workers were naked and wearing collars,
slaves or prisoners of war she supposed. But here and there she saw
the occasional freeman, armed but working to pay off the celibacy tax that
all Martian governments imposed. Why a planet with such reduced resources
would punish a confirmed bachelor for NOT overpopulating the planet was
beyond her. Did they punish the women for failing to breed too?
Probably, but not in this way. Celibate women where probably working
off their taxes in the city as street cleaners or such.
Eventually she reached the edge of the rise. The
slope was gradual at first then sharp to the dead seabed below. As
Throxeus receded, the city had followed and farms prospered as they found
the exposed silt to be rich and a boom for their crops. So the crops
that started out following the waterways, now spread further and on the
bed, they were scattered here and there as the farmers found rich silt
and moisture traps in the depressions. Up here, high, the ground
was rocky and brown, but down there, hundreds of feet below, the ground
turned bright red and yellow as the ochre moss abounded. Down there
were the fattest thoats but also the dangerous banth that fed upon the
herds despite the attempts of the Red Men to keep them away. Any beast
that could take a dozen nuclear rounds from a Radium Revolver and still
kill the holder before it died was not a beast she wanted to face.
She stood at the edge, on a rock and looked into the distance
at the too close red ground and pink sky and breathed the cold air.
Down below the air would be denser and warmer and so easier to breathe.
She had no fear of heights, the Demons had made certain when they changed
her for when you were standing on the hull of a starship in a micro-suit
and ‘down’ was ten thousand light years, and the only thing between you
and infinity was the grip your foot or tail had on a convenient projection
of the hull, fear of heights was as useless as fear of the dark or fear
of falling or fear of open spaces or fear of spiders (S’kree looked like
giant intelligent bugs and the man who stomped a ‘spider’ in the Skree
Worlds was asking to be used as egg food by the parent of the child he
had just killed. When Humanity spread to the stars, they'd unintentionally
start a lot of wars doing exactly that. Or rather one war, for Earth
would not survive the first reaction to their aggressive stupidity.).
She laughed at that thought. The Red Men of Barsoom
thought she was a tree-dwelling moorouk as the few Humans on Earth who
knew about her thought she was a tree-dwelling monkey. The truth is that
every change the Demons made to her was to enable her to work in space
aboard a starship millions of years in advance of anything humanity could
imagine. Far from a tree-dwelling savage, she was now a homeless
star-travelling engineer. She, who was once a Princess of Medieval Ulster,
descended from the great High King, Brian Boru, born and raised to be married
to a stranger to secure alliance, wasn't certain if her current position
was a promotion or a demotion. At least she was now free of the obligation
to marry whomever her family chose, free from being chattel to be sold
for alliance and land.
Eibhlin walked along the edge, her thoat following at
the telepathic command. All Martians were telepathic and she could
easily, if she wished, communicate with them though the Martian could not
communicate with the Earthling. And if she wanted, she could close
her mind and be invisible to their thoughts. It was like standing
in a darkened room and not knowing that someone was behind you. She sometimes
did that to unnerve the Red Men and that was another talent that made her
valuable to Ptarth.
After a while she approached a man sitting on a rock
with a very long-barreled rifle. The Red Man never even looked up
but said “Kaor’ as she approached. She was telepathically invisible
to him and her thoat made no sound with its padded toes so she wondered
how he knew she was there.
Replying in kind, she asked, “I would imagine that you
would look to see who I was. A stranger from behind is often a threat
He laughed, “You come from Amhor so must be friendly.
Had you arrived from the seabed, I would have sighted you long since.”
She noted that the rifle he carried had a radio-sight
and barrel that could easily kill a mouse at a dozen miles. “Still,
to find someone so trusting…”
He replied to her query, “I note that your thoughts are
those of a woman, so I was in little danger, yet, they are strange, almost
unreadable.” He turned to look, then looked again and as she started to
speak, he raised his hand, “Please, no! I love a good mystery, I
savor the texture of the unknown as a merchant the touch of fine silk.
Say nothing about yourself and allow me the pleasure of discovering you
He looked her over again, examining every aspect of her
then commented, “I would almost think you are descended from the mourook
of the Toonilian Marshes save that weapon at your belly shows an advanced
construction far beyond even the technical atheists of Toonol. This
and your strange thought patterns and your physical being tells me that
you are from another world just as is our Prince, Vad Varo.
And as our telescopes have studied every planet in this system, I must
conclude that you are from another star. Yet, you have many of the
characteristics of our Prince which leads me to wonder if you are a hidden
race from Jasoom? Oh I so love a mystery.”
She sat nearby, then handed him a flask of wine that he
accepted with a thanks. “Do you have many mysteries to solve?” she
“Not many, but those I do I cherish. Like that man
down there!” he handed her his rifle and pointed, his mind sending
an image of where to look.
She sighted in on the man, the rifle's sights locked on
the man riding a thoat across the seabed as the secondary targeting circle
moved off and on target as the barrel wavered in her grasp. When
the two circles matched, she could kill him though he be ten miles away.
Taking the weapon back, he continued, “He has been riding
in this direction since I first saw him early yesterday morning.
And then only because the sun flashed off his harness. That implies that
he is no Panthan for those carry no devices upon their leather. He
moves in this direction, but not in a line nor on the road. He appears
to be searching for something for he will alter his course and move in
a pattern then continue in this direction so although Amhor may be his
ultimate destination, it is not his immediate. And he is alone.”
“Will you sit here until he arrives?” she asked.
Even her Martian binoculars weren't as powerful as his rifle scope though
she tried to see the stranger.
“I think not.” He mused. “Perhaps I shall go to
meet with him. Would you care to accompany me? That way I can
work on one mystery as I seek the solution to the other.”
“I have a few days to myself, I think that I shall, though
I cannot abide mysteries myself. I find that my mind is more set
to the mechanics of the engine than the mind.”
“I am Vail Oran, a common than (warrior). And your name
She smiled at him and replied, “I am Eibhlin Inghean Ui
Bhrian, though your people call me Eibhlin Ui Bhrian.”
“Eivleen Obreen,” he tasted the name as if he were sampling
wine. “A strange name but one that befits you. Does it mean
“Eibhlin is my given name, my grandmother's name.
Ui Bhrian is my Clan name in Belfast. Inghean is to differ me from
my cousin.” She noted how he listened carefully to her every
word. It had been long since anyone had done that. He hesitated,
then placed his right hand on her left shoulder as if he were meeting with
another man. “Excuse me if I offend, but from your carriage, I note
that you are a noble, yet your metal shows you to be in the service of
Ptarth. And Ptarth has no alien nobles. Are you, perhaps, a
Noble cast from a conquered nation, seeking your way in the world?”
She replied in kind, then spoke as they walked to his
nearby thoat. “My mother was a Princess of Ulster who married my
father, a lesser Prince of Innis for political alliance. When our
nation was conquered by England, my mother was sold to the Americas as
a slave, my father hanged as a rebel. I was raped and shot by their
soldiers so now, I travel.”
“I knew it!” he was giddy with joy. “A sad story
but all too common upon Barsoom. Still, I profit from the experience
of knowing you.”
He led her down the road to the seabed, they chatting
like old friends. Men desired her body or her strength, few her friendship
and so she liked this man, she decided. Most Red Men were somber,
sharing the eventual death of their world, Vail Oran enjoyed life and she
was content to follow. Eventually, he listened to her humm and asked,
“Is that a song?”
“It is. One my mother used to sing to me.
I haven't thought about it for years.”
“Please teach it to me.” He asked and so she did.
When, like the dawning day
Love sends his early ray
What makes his dawning glow
Changeless through joy and woe
Only the constant know
Were she no longer true
What would her lover do
Fly with a broken chain
Far o'er the bounding main
Never to love again
Youth must in time decay
Beauty must fade away
Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
*an old Irish tune by Barry Taylor.
“A sad song,” he mentioned.
Translated by Gerald Griffin
“We Irish are a melancholy race. We fought amongst
ourselves so much we were easy pickings for the English. A conquered
race has little joy.”
“Have you no joyful airs?”
She laughed and sang as she sought to dance a jig on the
Every person in the nation
Or of great or humble station
Holds in highest estimation
Piping Tim of Galway
Loudly he can play or low
He can move you fast or slow
Touch your hearts or stir your toe
Piping Tim of Galway
When the wedding bells are ringing
His the breath to lead the singing
Then in jigs the folks go swinging
What a splendid piper
He will blow from eve to mourn
Counting sleep a thing of scorn
Old is he but not outworn
Know you such a piper?
When he walks the highways pealing
`Round his head the birds come wheeling
Tim has carols worth the stealing
Piping Tim of Galway
Thrush and Linnet, finch and lark
To each other twitter "Hark"
Soon they sing from light to dark
Pipings learnt in Galway*
*a drinking song by John Renfro Davis.
“Much better!” he laughed, tasting the verses. “Have
you any more of that wine?”
She laughed and they sang Irish drinking songs as they
rode until the sun grew low. At that time, he tried to climb a small
hill and located his quarry, “There! He has camped in that low spot.
See the fire glint from his harness. He seeks not to hide.
But we shall!”
Finding a low depression, he cut a scale from a mantilla
and caught the milk as Eibhlin made a small fire from dried thoat dung
and moss. Then they talked until the stars were bright.
Finally, he unrolled his blanket saying, “My Lady, I shall
take the first watch for I perceive you would not wish to sleep the night
She curtseyed as best she could, laughing back, “Thank
you, kind sir. And please wake me upon the designated time.”
She lay within her blanket as close to the fire as she could, placing heated
rocks at her feet and hips and head and listened to the thoats huddle in
the cracks. She even had pleasant dreams of Ireland.
Her watch came and she wondered again at her companion
who would actually turn over the watch to a woman. Red Men protected
their women, never exposing them to danger. And to go to sleep while
a woman holds the dangerous post of night watch, searching for banths and
other things that haunt the night was.. strange.
Eibhlin wrapped her blanket around her and climbed the
hill. Red Men were poor climbers but a body made for climbing around
inside the hull of a starship found this light slope easy. Especially
when she used her tail to hold the blanket and had what amounted to four
hands. The ability to see into the infrared and ultraviolet easily allowed
her to pinpoint the reddish glows in the distance.
Using her companion's rifle, she sighted on the other
man. Asleep. His thoat half buried in a crevasse. The
fire almost burned down.
She glanced up to see Thuria, the larger of the Moons
overhead. It looked far smaller than the Moon of Earth and she sighted
Clurios only because it was moving. Clurios was so small that it
resembled a bright star and was noticeable only when it passed another
heavenly body. In this case, Thuria. She watched for a time,
noted the illusion that both moons were far larger than they really were,
much like Luna seemed a giant when rising above the Earthly horizon,
but small overhead. There! Thuria slowed and reversed direction
as Clurios sought her embrace. Another illusion that resembled retrograde
motion. The eye focused on the rapidly moving Clurios as it approached
Thuria and perspective made it seem like Thuria reversed. She never
understood it until Brount, her alien fencing teacher had shown her.
He placed a light in the center of a cargo bay and had her walk around
the light at a set speed and distance. Brount then walked at a slightly
faster pace just within her. She knew his pace remained the same
but it seemed like he ran to her, then slowed to match her then sped away.
When Brount moved outside her circle and slowed down (the further you were
from the sun, the slower the planets revolved) his pace, she seemed to
speed up, then it seemed like Brount had walked backwards until he was
behind her, when he started forward again. The universe was filled
with optical illusions. You could stare at a star in the distance
between trees waving in the breeze and it would seem like the trees were
frozen but the star was bouncing all over the place. Very much like
that shadow moving forward. The rocks seemed to move and she had
to force her mind to realize that…
She sighted on the banth with the rifle, seeking the juggler
in the neck. The Martian Lion paused to gage the thoat or the sleeper
and that gave Eibhlin the time to fire. Instantly she moved to the
shoulder and fired a series of radium bullets into the side of the monster.
It was too dark to see the effect for there wasn't enough light to detonate
the projectiles but with luck, they would penetrate the thick hide and
cause enough bleeding to kill. She would have preferred to use her
Beamer but the range was too great.
The banth jerked, then reared and screamed, too far for
her to hear clearly. Then it leapt and stopped, frozen in midair
for a moment, then fell to the side.
Eibhlin examined the scene as best she could. She
had excellent night vision, thanks to her Demon masters but once the sun
set, she lost color and all was in black-and-white. Unfortunately,
the marvelous sighting mechanism on the rifle did not amplify light so
she remained hampered. But she did see the red man wipe his blade
and look around, then pull a lance from the banth. She saw him quickly
pack his kit and rouse the thoat and lead it away in the darkness.
Blood would attract other predators who wouldn't care if the blood they
scented came from a dead banth or a living man.
“What ho?” Vail asked after a noisy climb that dislodged
more rock than she imagined existed.
“I was watching your mystery and shot a banth about to
consume him.” She replied.
He took the rifle and stared for a long time. “You
killed a banth at this range with non-exploding rounds?”
“I did not.” She replied, “I startled it with the impact.
HE,” she motioned outward, ‘killed it with lance and sword.”
“My admiration for him grows. Few men can survive
a banth in the daylight with exploding ammunition. To kill one in the dark
with lance and blade is almost unheard of. Where goes he?”
“Off to the east I believe. He is walking his thoat,
doubtless to prevent panic and loss of a mount to a leg broken on a dark
rock or hidden hole.”
Vail moved closer to her wrapping his encloaked arm around
her shivering body. “Apologies, you seem cold.” The atmosphere
on Mars was too thin to hold heat or light so when the sun set, it suddenly
became dark and cold as if someone had turned out the lights and turned
on the refrigeration. Eibhlin’s Earthly body, even enhanced by the
aliens, suffered the cold even more than did the Red Men.
“Are the stars different at your home?” he asked.
“I recall watching them with my parents when I was young.
They look the same, only not as many as can be seen in your thin air.
We see maybe seven thousand. Here, with your thin atmosphere, the
skies seem covered. But mostly, since I left Ireland, I live far
away. None of the stars are recognizable and I must learn new names
and new patterns.”
“It must be beautiful out there.” He whispered.
“Very.” She replied. “Few things are more beautiful than
a star nebulae or the accretion disc of a black hole or a binary star dancing
around each other.”
“Then why come here?”
She laughed. “An accident. My ship remains in orbit
around Jasoom, though in the far past or distant future I know not.
I have built a signal device which remains in Ptarth to call and when my
ship arrives, so I shall leave.”
“You sound anxious.”
“I miss being warm at night. I miss wearing clothes
and mostly I miss real food that does not poison my guts!” She didn't
tell him that she missed her Vanthi lover who had deserted her on Earth.
Red Men had no understanding of lesbians.
She was aware of his body heat for Red Men were
warm, very warm. It was as if their body temperature rose as the
outside temperature fell. Probably another illusion, she thought.
Still, his body heat was welcome and she fell asleep.
Eibhlin awoke with the sun in her face. There were
rocks under her and she ached from their points, still, it was another
day and to someone who had died more than twenty years ago and been revived,
every day was God's gift!
She climbed down the hill, amazed that Vail had done so
and quietly, then had breakfast of Somp, mantilla and a bite of salted
meat that she had to spit as her saliva became filled with the PCl from
the meat. Then they moved on. “Mayhaps your bullets went unnoticed
and he thinks he killed the banth alone,” he offered.
“I suspect that a man that careful and skilled would not
miss a number of round holes in the body.”
Silent, she with her thoughts, he with his mystery, they
moved on towards the area they thought the stranger was.
“POW!” than a moment later, another report.