Emerald of Mars
by Ed Augusts
Although Barsoom was a planet already burdened with a proud
and ancient history in the years before the advent of John Carter, his
presence there nevertheless influenced the planet and contributed toward
its development more than any other single factor in the long history of
Barsoom. This singularly mysterious man, insignificant in size when compared
to any Green Barsoomian, evoked an awe from those who knew him, as well
as from those many millions of Barsoomians who only heard of John Carter
through legends that swept across the dead sea bottoms of the planet, into
nearly every broad plain and inaccessible canyon from the Lost Sea of Korus
to the Artolian Hills.
Though his form has vanished from Barsoom,
he is still venerated and loved by those who knew him, and remembered by
those countless millions who only heard of his deeds. A tale of his exploits
that is widely known among the people of Barsoom is one that occurred in
the summer of John Carter's eighth year on the planet. Few Barsoomians
heard of the entire adventure at the time, since it took place in a remote
spot of Barsoom removed from civilized life. And John Carter, by nature
a modest man, was reluctant to tell anyone of it.
John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak
of Helium, winced at the bright morning sunlight from the sun that was
rising above the broad horizon stretching beyond the last ancient houses
of Greater Helium toward the yellow-coloured spire of Lesser Helium. A
tiny dot of a moon sped overhead, a bright pebble in the glowing sunlight.
Suddenly, anguish swept over John Carter and he turned his face from the
scene before him and wept silently in a dark corner, those tears the first
to glisten on his cheeks since his coming to Barsoom.
John Carter held a letter in his hand,
a letter written in a strange language not of Barsoom or of Earth. But
Carter could imagine what meaning the letter had. It was undoubtedly a
ransom note from the villains who had stolen his dear wife, Dejah Thoris
from him the evening before.
That past scene grew vivid in his memory.
Returning to his room after an evening of walking through the streets of
Greater Helium, he noticed Dejah Thoris not sleeping on her bed where he
had last seen her. Spinning around he caught sight of her in the arms of
a horrendous creature, much unlike any Barsoomian he had ever seen. A distorted
female face surprised him from behind the door, and before John Carter
could even comprehend what was happening, a heavy metal bar, swung by a
third creature, grazed his skull and crashed across his shoulders, throwing
him down to the floor in a state of unconsciousness. When palace guards
found Carter he was not seriously injured, his rugged frame withstanding
the powerful attack. But Dejah Thoris and the beasts that had been in the
chamber were gone, and all that remained was a yellow parchment-like paper
on her bed written in strange characters and forms.
That night was spend in a search of the city
to find the missing princess, but Dejah Thoris was nowhere to be found.
Troops and police searched from house to house in Greater and Lesser Helium
but to no avail. A clue to her disappearance was found late in the
afternoon when an airship was reported missing by a wealthy Barsoomian
official in Lesser Helium. It was found that a policeman had seen it rise
slowly above the city and fly southward, but he had thought it of no importance
at the time.
As the morning came, John Carter realized
that his wife was alone with cutthroats somewhere on Barsoom. As he impatiently
waited for more reports from officials and the military, Carter vowed he
would not rest a minute in his efforts to find his wife and the ones who
had stolen her from him. His position, his palace, his life itself would
mean nothing to him now if he were forced to live his days without his
beloved Dejah Thoris.
"John Carter, I have come!" An ominously
large green shape squeezed itself through a doorway. It was Carter's old
friend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.
"I heard this morning what had happened and
left my people to help you in any way I could." John Carter smiled
hopefully, and patted the huge Barsoomian warrior-chief on his tough shoulder.
"Thanks, Tars Tarkas. We haven't a minute
to lose! I must find Dejah Thoris and I think I can accomplish that faster
if I have this letter translated!" Tars Tarkas looked at the letter and
"John Carter, I will follow you across all
of Barsoom in pursuit of danger but you know I would rather destroy enemies
than decipher letters."
"In time we shall both be able to destroy
enemies! Now let us go to my air flier in the street below, and speed to
a distant province."
A circular staircase led to a broad and elegant
room of granite and marble. Beyond it, the street and airship waiting for
the two warriors.
A whispering, massive crowd had gathered
in the streets when they had heard of the unfortunate incident the night
before. Lines of tension showed on the faces of the gaily dressed palace
guards who had worked feverishly the night through in their vain efforts
of finding Dejah Thoris in the city, or of any clue to solve her disappearance.
John Carter held the only, and certainly the most important clue, the unfathomable
letter that he clutched as he and Tars Tarkas stepped out with the hard,
determined look of those who believe that nothing can seriously affect
them for long. The pair soon disappeared into their ship, and the silent
craft flew vertically several hundred feet into the crisp Barsoomian sky
to be above the tall spires and buildings of Greater Helium, and then streaked
toward the distant horizon to grapple with forces of a kind no man of Mars
or Earth had ever met or could hope to destroy. The tenacious John Carter
thus began a campaign to find his dear wife, and punish those who had so
rashly stolen her from him.
An hour of flying across monotonous
seas of yellow moss took John Carter and Tars Tarkas over an area seldom
visited by many Barsoomians. From the distance of one hundred haads,
the brilliantly green edges of the Great Toonolian Marshes could be plainly
seen, a striking contrast against the dull ochre moss which covers most
of the planet. In the depths of this giant jungled patch lived perhaps
the only man of Barsoom who could decipher the strange language of the
letter, and the reason for Carter's visit to the Marshes was solely to
speak to this old scholar.
The Great Toonolian Marshes were
stilled as as evening approached. The small animals of the
area had finished their food-seeking and they scurried inside their burrows
in the trunks and branches of old marsh trees to spend the night.
Now was the time for the night creatures, generally the larger and more
carnivorous animals to appear, either slithering out from their giant ponds
of slimy water, or crawling from their homes in the trees on the many hills
and ridges that protruded from the stagnant and muddy pools and streams
that generally composed the swamps. Then they would find and kill their
prey and then return to their natural homes as morning approached.
Under a darkened sky the craft
which carried John Carter and Tars Tarkas silently sped to the thickest
portion of the Toonolian Swampland and then stopped, hovering quietly.
John Carter surveyed the countryside. Green jungle foliage stretched
from horizon to horizon. Not far distant was a group of small steep
hills that pierced the green blanket of the swamp. They were darkly
wooded and very similar in appearance. Nevertheless, John Carter
knew what his goal was. He flew his ship directly above and over
one of the peaks, and then settled the airship slowly into the jungle.
John Carter and Tars Tarkas stepped
from their craft and furtively climbed up a grassy slope that rose from
the deep waters below, reflecting upon the cloudy sky of evening and the
moons appearing through broken clouds above. The grass was long and
scratchy to walk in, but even the small cuts that appeared on John Carter's
bare legs were nothing to the punishment of constantly slipping through
and among the branches and strange roots of warped trees that stretched
up the hillside of this old sinking mountain range.
Tars Tarkas helped matters by
pushing apart some of the smaller trees, but even he was occasionally stopped
by picket-fence walls of trees growing within inches of each other. Finally
though, the pair reached the top of the hill, several hundred yards from
their starting point in the marshes below. The swamps below were quiet
except for occasional bird-like whispers, shrieks, and low rumbles from
creatures seldom seen by anyone. But they seemed to be farther down
in the swamps, and the steaming jungle was rather quiet. In any case,
Tars Tarkas wondered if the home of the old scholar they would visit was
Finally John Carter gained the
top of the hill where there was strangely no vegetation and no trees.
This was the only spot in the Toonolian Marshes where one could see the
home of the scholar Rodemm.
Even in the darkness of night, two small
pinpoints of light could be seen reflected below them. They came from a
dark opening on the side of the hill opposite the slope they had climbed.
"That, Tars Tarkas, is where Rodemm the scholar
lives, and has lived for the past thousand years."
"What an infernal spot in which to spend
"Rodemm was a great scientist of Barsoom,
a descendant of those scientists that engineered the canals of this planet.
He has learned the secrets of time and science and now has chosen to spend
his remaining days on Barsoom here, in this distant spot."
"Why trouble the old creature?" Tars Tarkas
and John Carter were now quickly descending.
"He is possibly the only one alive who could
tell me the meaning of this letter. Along with his prowess as a scientist,
he is also an exceptional linguist."
Struggling out of the grip of a sharp branch,
John Carter saw that far below them were the dark waters of the ancient
marshes. And between the marshes and where they were standing was the opening
to the cavern of scholar Rodemm.
Descending still further, John Carter finally
jumped to the lip of a ledge that hung a few feet above the murky and frightening
waters. He looked up and saw the massive Tars Tarkas step down, nearly
placing his green foot on top of him because of the darkness.
"Never mind. Lets look in the cave." Around
the edges of the cave's entrance was a semi-luminescent ring, and two burning
white lights glared upon them and the dark marshes from the two sides.
It was unexpectedly dark inside. The light around the Cave's exterior did
nothing to light the inside.
"John Carter.. I feel the presence of a strange
Carter stopped in his tracks and listened
cautiously, putting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
A breathing sound was issuing from farther
inside the cave, and a whiff of something fetid and decaying was in the
air. Fearlessly, though, John Carter stepped forward. Suddenly, he felt
a sharp pain strike his face and the wetness of his own blood flowed in
a sudden gush down his bare neck and chest. Toppling to the cave floor,
part of his cheek nearly gouged out, he heard a few distant sounds and
felt a soft numbness that came slowly upward from his lower body and finally
him to unconsciousness.
The darkness he endured for long moments
on the floor of the cave seemed only a second to him as he came awake under
the strenuous tugs and efforts of Tars Tarkas. Carter opened his eyes and
saw that the cave was now brilliantly lighted, and that a man of the Red
Barsoomian race stood with Tars Tarkas above him. A many-clawed, double-headed,
and otherwise fearsome beast was lying sprawled over much of the floor
of the cave, dead by the hand of Tars Tarkas. The man, easily recognized
as Rodemm, had finished applying medications to John Carter's face. He
fingered his cheek gingerly, but it felt numb, cold, and like plastic.
He shook his head and then rose from the floor of the cave.
"How feel you, John Carter?" Queried
"Never better, but for the coldness
in my cheek."
"That will pass quickly and you will
be stronger than before, and I have sewn you together again so that not
a scar will remain." Rodemm was speaking, his old voice still mellow
and youthful. "The beast behind us crawled out from the marsh and
has bothered me these past sixty years. I am grateful to both of you for
coming and destroying the creature." Rodemm was smiling cheerfully.
"We come, Rodemm on a mission of oppressive
importance. You must help me if you can." Tars Tarkas spoke in his low
crisp voice to old Rodemm.
"Why, yes. If it is anything reasonable
I certainly will do it. I owe you a debt of gratitude for destroying the
beast. Tell me what it is as you come with me to my living quarters."
A small cave that joined the larger
one perpendicularly, was filled with odd bones, decaying food matter and
excreta. It had obviously been the den of the beast Tars Tarkas had killed.
Beyond it, the cavern was dark and then around a sudden narrowing turn,
brilliantly lighted with glowing panels atop the now-tubular long cave.
A large steel gate, placed there to guard against large and small Toonolian
Marsh creatures opened easily to the hand of Scholar Rodemm, and the three
entered a huge room flanked with walls of grey and silver computers, strange
scientific devices, and machinery that both Carter and Tars Tarkas had
never seen before.
"Speak what you will, John Carter."
John Carter, now completely recovered
from any wounds he received, stood and told Rodemm that he was a friend,
sympathetic to science, and that he had come to show him a strange letter
and to see if he could translate it for him.
The scholar then spoke, his voice friendly
and reasonable, but his words fierce and distracting.
"Your strange letter may be of importance
to you, and it may not. In any case, it is of no importance to me! I must
busy myself with other matters.. replenishing the Barsoomian Seas with
water, and many kindred and diverse matters. Now you may return to your
ship and go back to whence you came!"
"Wait, Rodemm!" But Rodemm had spoken
quietly and distinctly, and turned to leave the chamber. Thirty feet separated
him from John Cater, and he would be gone in another moment. Quickly, looking
and seeing that the roof of the cavern they were in was nearly a hundred
feet above them, Carter took a step and jumped with all his strength, landing
a few feet in front of the old scientist.
"You are not of Barsoom, By the throne of
Issus!" The old scientist was surprised by this miraculous showing of athletic
ability no one of the planet could have possibly equaled, allowed to Carter
by the weakened Martian gravity and his own powerful muscles.
"John Carter, "Said Tars Tarkas, approaching
from the other end of the giant room, "Let me hang this scholar by his
toes for his ungrateful attitude as a warning of what happens to those
who tamper with the temper of Tars Tarkas!"
"No, Tars Tarkas." A faint smile etched John
Carter's features. "Remember, I might have bled to death had he not helped
me." Then he thought. "But perhaps we could do it later though, if the
old scholar does fail to help us after we have reasonably discussed the
matter with him and he persists in his attitude!"
The old man's ancient shoulders shrugged, and his
face grew glum, but he winked and seemed content with the situation and
the persistence of these strangers.
"All right, you have won the
battle. Now let me see your fabled letter!"
John Carter withdrew from his side
a yellow piece of paper and slipped it into the scholar's hand.
"Tell me what it says, old Scholar, and we
will leave you here to your work."
The eyes of the scientist narrowed as he
scanned the paper, and then suddenly glowed with excitement. He took an
enlarging glass and looked intently at the letters and words written the
night Dejah Thoris was stolen from John Carter by the strange creatures
at the palace in Greater Helium.
"Can you decipher its meaning, Rodemm?"
The bony figure twitched and then ran
about the room, searching to find and old book of language comparisons,
but Rodemm failed to answer John Carter. The man skimmed across page after
page in the book, and then looked up at Carter as he asked the very same
question again, this time in an impatient tone.
"Its meaning? I must notify the Universities
of Barsoom. Never was I as pleased with anything since I discovered a dozen
books of the ancient white race. Its meaning? Untranslatable to me, but
perhaps a machine could unravel it for you!"
Tars Tarkas smashed his huge fist upon the
table, scattering papers upon the floor.
"Scholar, you say much yet tell us little.
Can you decipher it or not?"
Rodemm curled his lip and thought a
minute. "Possibly after weeks of calculation and speculation, after thousands
of failures, an ordinary Barsoomian scientist could unravel the meaning
of the first several words. But I, to satiate your lust in this matter,
will decipher the letter in several seconds!"
Carter and Tars Tarkas were duly impressed.
The scholar seemed certain of what he was doing, and confident that he
"Follow me, gentlemen, and you will find
I accomplish what to anyone else would be a miracle!"
Rodemm then pressed a switch and part of
the wall facing them slid back, revealing a dark chamber beyond. Rodemm
disappeared into it, and John Carter and Tars Tarkas followed. All was
darkness as the wall closed again. Tars Tarkas nervously spoke to Carter
of their situation.
"John Carter! It is a trap. Prepare to fight
and die, for I sense danger ahead!"
John Carter scoffed at the idea of any danger
confronting them here, in the dark tunnels of an old and eccentric scientist,
but he remembered that Tars Tarkas had been quite correct in warning him
against the ferocious cave-beast minutes earlier and then wondered what
~ TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE OF ODWAR