PART XIV: Conclusion
-- JOHN CARTER
In the end, as it turned out, I had underestimated the range and breadth
of Helium’s navies and the scope of its alliances. I had expected
the royal family of Helium to ponder my message, but instead, John Carter
had simply read it once, commandeered the fastest one man flyer in the
twin cities and raced out to the largest Heliumatic warship patrolling
the borders nearest us. It was a mad, brilliant, recklessness
I had seen before.
Using this and a handful of smaller ships as the nucleus of a
fleet, Dejah Thoris had bent her diplomatic skills to ensuring his safe
passage and the contribution of friendly or neutral cities in the region
to a growing armada following in his wake. His flagship had actually
arrived the day before, but taking the measure of his enemies strength,
he had the sense to want to wait until the rest of his fleet arrived.
Or at least, he’d had some sort of sense. Seeing the
attack was imminent, and the monster poised, he’d thrown caution to the
winds and driven recklessly into the breach, hoping that the rest of the
fleet might arrive before the battle had ended for him and for us.
And so now, it was over, but for the aftermath. That
is always the most tedious part, setting straight the mess afterwards.
There were a thousand and one tasks to attend to, and so I busied myself.
It was far easier to deal with the tribulations of the present than to
contemplate whatever trials lay in the future.
There was a moment when I had a bit of time. I descended
to the basement of the fortress, there to look in upon my prisoner.
“Come to gloat,” Pew Mogel sneered. His infant body
had been savagely hacked up, one arm was but a stump, his legs were tattered
ruins. Although he was covered with bandages, I doubt that he actually
“I am Ras Thavas’ Artificial Man,” he bragged. “I’m
the first and the greatest.”
I smiled at that, which infuriated him, though it was not my intent.
Bragging is what you do when you’ve got nothing else left.
“Don’t laugh at me!” he screamed. “I was the first,
and I am the greatest of his creations. You think you’ve won?
I’ll conquer the world.”
“And then what?” I said quietly.
For a second, he seemed nonplused. Then like a child
with a tantrum, until his cheeks swelled, and his veins hardened and burst
“And then? And then? Then I’ll rule the world, I’ll
rule it all, and I’ll show you, and your bitch of a lover, and the Calots
who spawned you! I’ll show everyone!”
“So this is what you propose?” I asked. “You
want to rule the world for no better purpose than to scrawl your worst
features upon it, to vent your failures and weaknesses, your insecurities
and flaws on titanic scale. You want the greatest achievement in
order to indulge your smallest nature?”
For a second, he was speechless. His eyes wide with
rage, and perhaps something else, shock, insight.
“If that was all you were,” I said quietly, “I think I should
have chopped you up into little pieces. The world is full of
pathetic monsters weeping with selfishness and self pity, there’s hardly
a need for another. I read your journal, I think that it is in you
to be more and greater than that. If you must scheme to conquer
Barsoom, then let me ask you, should you not also scheme to do something
worthy once you’ve conquered it? And should you not strive
to be worthy of the thing you wish to conquer? Perhaps you
should think to achieve these things before you seek to conquer.”
He stared at me, blinking, an expression on his hideous face somewhere
between shock and thoughtfulness. Had I reached him?
And then, with visible effort, he cast these thoughts from his
mind, sucked a lungfull of air and let loose a mighty howl.
I sighed and pulled myself to my feet. His desperate
howls followed as I walked away from his cell down the empty hallways.
Perhaps I was reaching him, I thought, and it was merely old habits
Or perhaps you simply could not change a monster’s nature.
I hoped that was not true. Because if it was, then what hope did
such as I have?
After that, I went through officers reports, then gave orders
for food distribution. After that, it was inspecting cargo manifests,
and then compiling records for prisoners of war. The tasks
were endless. Late in the afternoon, Azara showed up.
“How are your parents?” I greeted her.
I hadn’t spent as much time as I wanted with her, or for that
matter, with anyone. There was just so much to do, and so few
I trusted to do it.
“I bring greetings from the Warlord,” Azara said formally, “and
the lady, Dejah Thoris, who has arrived.”
A sudden sweat broke out over my skin, and my stomach fluttered.
“That’s nice,” I said, neutrally.
“You are invited to meet them at the dining hall,” she said.
“Now?” I asked. “I don’t have time.
There’s too much to do, to many things to take care of. Tell
them to go back to the ship, its not completely safe here, you never know...”
“Then have dinner with them tonight, on their flagship.”
“Well, certainly,” I said, “if I can. But I’m really busy,
I don’t know that I can make it. In fact, I’m certain that I cannot.
“Why are you afraid?” she asked.
I stopped, staring at her.
“I’m not afraid,” I said. I wished I sounded more
“You’ll have to face them sooner or later,” she said.
“I know that,” I replied. “And I will... Just...
Later. A lot later, I’m really very busy, there are so many things
“Now,” she said.
“Azara,” I whispered, my eyes wide with pleading, “I can’t.
I just can’t.”
“I’ll be there for you,” she said, taking my hand in hers.
I shrugged helplessly.
“I’ve spent my life at war with Helium,” I said.
“That war is over,” she told me.
“A lifetime of hatred, a life shaped by fate,” I said, “I can’t
simply throw that away.”
“No,” she said, “but you must set it aside. I know that
you are strong enough to do this.”
”How can I greet them,” I said softly. “After all
this time, after all these years. What could I say? I
don’t even know who I am to them.”
“That’s silly,” she chided gently, “you are Tora Kar Thor, and
your father is the Warlord, your mother is the most beautiful woman in
the world, your stepmother is a Great White Ape and your lover is a Hormad
Princess. You are the woman who fought a thousand duels, and
who duels a hundred battles. You are the hero of lost causes,
the warrior of light in the forces of darkness. You’re the
one who never backed down and never gave up. Who traveled the
world from one pole to another. That is who you are.
And a person like that shouldn’t have any reservations whatsoever about
meeting her parents.”
I sighed heavily and bent my head till my forehead was touching
“You are going to make me do this?”
“I insist,” she whispered.
“What if they don’t like me?”
“Then we’ll go and live with your stepmother’s family, they seem
I laughed a little.
“You’ll be there with me?”
“Right by your side.”
“Hold my hand.”
“I’ll never let you go.”
I took a deep breath.
“Let’s do it,” I said, “before I lose my nerve.”
They were in the great ballroom chamber at the top of the fortress.
Azara lead me by the hand, my legs weak as water as we climbed the steps
The room was crowded, all around me were men and women who I knew,
who I’d fought with. There were others, officers of the ships, men
of Helium. I barely noticed them, I walked, as if in a daze.
Finally, I was standing before them. A woman
of incomparable beauty and poise, the product of a thousand generations
of culture, a radiant exquisite being. And next to her, he
stood, the man from another world, the greatest swordsman, the finest warrior,
the legendary hero. He radiated strength and charisma, indomitable
courage and good will, and beneath it all, a fine tuned intelligence, a
giant in everything but size. They stared at me, their eyes
searching, faces lined with care and worry.
My legs, which had seemed soft and light as water, now dragged
like lead weights. I felt small and unworthy before these two.
I wanted to turn and run away. Or fall to my knees and weep.
It was hard to breathe. Azara released my hand then, urging me forward
with the gentlest of touches.
Then, the giant took a step forward, and folded me in his arms.
The woman was there as well, the two of them embracing me. I felt
small and weak, as if I was falling into them, falling back through time
to the moment of my hatching, when I should have looked out at the world
with brand new eyes and seen them for the first time looking back to me.
I realized that in a sense, I had returned to that moment, the moment that
should have been, and that this was it. That at long last, I had
found my parents.
“Father,” I whispered, “Mother.”
I’ve come home.
- the end -
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