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Volume 1712
Art by Jeff Doten
Arrival on Mars

By Rick Johnson

I was wandering around London wondering what I should do with my life.  My current life that is.  My old life was dead and gone, as dead as the ruins of Ancient Greece.  Three years ago, subjective, I was a simple kid living in Western Ireland reading tales of Barsoom and Amtor and Pellucidar, dreaming of the adventures of John Carter, David Innes and Lord Greystoke.  Wishing that I could do those things that I read in the books… and I did.  For I had discovered the secret… Edgar Rice Burroughs was not just a writer with a strong imagination, he was exactly what his forwards said he was, a chronicler of other men's adventures.  Barsoom existed!  Maybe not in our specific universe but in some parallel existence that could be traversed under the proper conditions of time, space and imagination.  The Demons called them Stargates!  Warpings in the fabric of existence that would take you to many places and times.

I found Opar quite by accident.  While hiding from bullies in the library of my high school in Ireland, I found the key to the location of Opar (or Ophir as it is recorded in Egyptian and Jewish history) in a book by a German ologist named Willy Ley who recounted the plans of a Nazi scientist to flood Africa and that gave me the key! And I found it.  (Mental note:  Never try to smuggle African Gold into England.  British Customs has no sense of humor!)  So I eventually discovered the key to wealth. Swiss Bank accounts!  They asked no questions and gladly deposited my gold bars and then transferred a portion of my deposit to my Irish bank where I could access the money.

Then, after exploring Ophir and secretly the Valley of the Palace of Diamonds, I was relaxing, walking along a stream when a large reptile reared up and attacked me.  I drew the 18” Enfield bayonet that I habitually carried in the wild and proceed to defend myself against this horror… and lost.

The creature was a Demon, a race that had abducted humans before and after convincing them that I was useful (the alternative was leaving the ship via airlock some billions of miles from Earth), I worked for and served the Demons for three years.  I fought in their Kris Wars, explored worlds I never knew existed, loved an alien woman (she was of human descent so the parts matched) and was re-engineered by Demon medicine into what they called Weir, a race they were creating from humans like me to operate and repair their starships.

Then it was over!  The ship landed on Earth (England to be exact), I was thrown out and they left.  No explanation, no goodbyes, just a landing and a boot through the airlock.  So here I was, back on Earth but by a peculiar aspect of relativity, I had been returned to Earth 150 years or so after I left (no one here knew exactly what year it was).  The world had almost been destroyed by wars, disease, ecological disruption and those who now lived were the descendants of the 1% of humanity that survived what happened shortly after I left.  I guess I was lucky.

So here I am, wearing ‘human skin’ to disguise what the Demons made me into (the stuff itches horribly and I feel like I am wearing mittens, sun-glasses, earplugs and weights) and trying to find a job and eat.  Desiree, a Senator from Montmeet (what used to be California before half of it slid into the Pacific) had given me a letter of introduction to the British Government and so here I was, a former IRA Freedom Fighter about to beg the enemy for a job.  Does this not this prove that the Gods have a perverse sense of humor?  Fortunately, the war between Irish and Brit ended a century and a half ago and to these people, the IRA is but a footnote in history that not even the new Irish nation remembers.  I guess we won our freedom after all.

London was smaller than in my time.  Most of the city had been destroyed in the cataclysm that they called the Rapture.  The Moslems called that day the Hammer of Allah, the Odinists called it Ragnarok, the Buddhists…   But with a total population of less than a million, the Brits had tried to learn their lessons and worked hard to make everyone happy and well fed.  I sometimes wondered if the other nations on Earth were the same or if the Warlords that took over after major upheavals retained their power.

I sighed and entered the building that housed Military Intelligence. I have no idea of what it used to be in my century but now it was a series of offices that sought to recover the knowledge of the past.

I walked down the hall looking at the window signs.  Here was the department dedicated to trying to recover computer technology, there Jet aircraft, here nuclear power and so on.  Life the first few decades after the Rapture was so hard that technology simply rotted away.  Gasoline turned to shellac in the engines, wire insulation rotted in the machines, battery acid ate through the casings.  By the time society had reached the point where they could shift from bare survival to the more pleasant aspects of life, something as simple as a pocket watch had vanished from history.  Even the books had been burned in an attempt to survive the long mini-ice age that followed.

Here it was, Military Intelligence.  In my time we called that an oxymoron.  But I entered anyway and told the receptionist that my name was Obrien and I had an appointment letter.  She showed me into the office of Sir Harold Thimes.  No security clearance, no armed guards, just this man in his office reading reports on hemp paper.

I waited there, a skill I learned living with Demons who lived their lives without regard to human custom, until he looked up and bade me sit.  I did so after handing him my letter from Desiree and waited some more as he read the sealed message.  Then he leaned back and said, “Miss Whitewater speaks well of you.  She thinks that you would be an asset in whatever you do.  I'm certain that our historians would love to talk to you as you have first hand experience with history so why here and not the university?”

“Sir,” I replied.  “I'm tired of answering questions all day long.  They ask the same things and don't understand that I wasn't old enough to know how things worked when I left.  I never built a jet aircraft or read a computer manual or even understood how to make stainless steel.  All my studies were in history and what fiction I read or TV I watched… and no, before you ask, I have no idea of how a TV works.  I never even graduated High School, having been taken before I could.”

He leaned back, looked at me and laughed.  “Sometimes it is hard to understand that. I suppose that if I were taken to an isolated island in the ocean, could I rebuild civilization as it is now?  Probably not.  So what ARE your skills and how can you be of use to us?”

I thought for awhile than answered carefully, “I was a soldier with the Demons during the Kris Wars.  Most of that was infantry as I never could understand Demon technology.  But I do have some considerable experience in surviving on foreign worlds and dealing with alien sentients.”  This was almost verbatim what Desiree had told me to say.

Sir Harold looked at my letter again, then at me then looked out his window for a moment.  “Have you ever heard of the planet Barsoom?”

“I've heard of it.  Back in the early 1970’s I met some people who claimed to have been there. And, of course, I've read the life and adventures of Captain John Carter as chronicled by Burroughs so I have some literary familiarity of the place, but I've never been there in person.”

“Would you like to go?” he asked without any emotion whatsoever.

This took me somewhat aback.  In the 20th century, anyone seeking to work for any intelligence agency would face months of background security checks then years of minor jobs until they were trusted with something important and here was someone offering me a job on another world based on a two minute interview and a letter of recommendation.   Life on Earth had definitely changed while I was away.  So I relaxed and replied, “Sure, why not?  What do you want me to do?”

He opened a file drawer and removed some photos and slid them to me.  “Barsoom is an interesting world.  We have had intermittent communication with them for some 200 years via Gridley wave but when the Earth was decimated, they were too busy fighting a war with Jupiter to help us recover.  A few years ago, we managed to get enough information from the Martians to learn that there were a couple places on Earth where it was possible to transport from here the there and back again.  Our scientists call them “wormholes” but don't understand them.  We think it is some form of astral projection combined with matter-transmission or transformation.  We know one is in America, Arizona in fact, but it's in an area that is still highly radioactive and inhabited by predator cockroaches and mutant trolls.  The other is in France near the Verdun region.  John Carter transferred through the Arizona wormhole in the 19th century and Ulysses Paxton in the 20th century but then no one else crossed over, that we know of, until about ten years ago.

“At that time, the Verdun wormhole opened and someone crossed here, naked and unarmed, the man collapsed and died of heart failure within hours of appearing.  We believe that it was because his body had evolved to Martian gravity and couldn't survive Earth's greater forces.  So it appears that any travel between Earth and Mars must be one-way.

“To make certain that the radio broadcasts were true, we eventually sent a team of three well-trained agents to spy out Mars and determine if the world was safe for human contact.  For all we know, the Martians were using friendship to prepare for an invasion.

“Unfortunately, we quickly lost contact with our people and honestly, we don't know if they died of natural causes or were captured or murdered by the Martians.  I need someone to go through the Verdun wormhole and find out.  Ms Whitewater feels that your experiences with aliens may be useful here.   Are you interested?”

Hmmm, obviously their ‘wormholes’ were the Demon Stargates of which there appeared to be many on Earth.  The Demons didn't like people to know about them as they considered humans to be too dangerous to be allowed to leave their planet.  After all, the Kris war was mainly human abductees making war on the Demons and their human allies. The question was, did the Demons kill the British spies to keep humans isolated or were there other facets at work here?  After three years on a Demon ship, I felt that I was safe from Demon attacks but the Martians and Earth-people were another matter. If the Demons felt threatened by either race, Sol would have two more asteroid belts.   On the other hand, I first met Brian in Arizona only a few years before I was taken by the Demons and even then I wished that I had gone to Barsoom with him.  “I'm your man” I stated.

And so, just like that, I was a spy for British Intelligence.  My mother would disown me for this, were she not insane and dead long ago.  My training was very simple.  I was taught to operate a Gridley Wave radio even though MI said that the Martian version was probably different.  They told me everything that they knew about Barsoom which was less than I remembered from reading Burroughs’ rewriting of the journals of Carter and Paxton.  They tried to teach me martial arts, which I loved and picked up very quickly, both the unarmed and sword styles (I particularly liked Kendo though I was decent in Fencing but Chinese styles baffled me).  And they tried to impress on me the absolute need to seek the truth about the Martian attitudes towards Earth.  Even when I left, Earth hadn't the technology to stop an alien invasion and this century, with 99% of the people still trying to just survive, any military force from Mars would face limited opposition.  In short, the Brits were scared.

When the time came. They outfitted me with more gear than I could carry.  I had crossed Africa as a teen-aged Merc with a rifle, scimitar and canteen so most of this junk was going into the moss as soon as I arrived.  But the Brits were trying to think of every situation and plan for it.  I hadn't the heart to tell them that I had been kicked out of the cub scouts so never learned that saying about always be prepared.

The nights would be cold so they gave me thermals and heavy clothes and wool blankets (ignoring that I am allergic to wool).  A compass in case there was a magnetic field to use.  A sextant to find my way back to wherever I arrived.  Food and Water.  Medical supplies. An old assault rifle carefully restored from an old armory with 500 rounds of rebuilt ammunition.  A rapier and saber (depending on what style would be best used) and other things that I liked or hated.  Hat & sunglasses, yes!  Box of gifts for the local king, no!  Water purification tablets, yes!  Animal butchering kit, no!  Microscope, no!  Binoculars, yes! And so on and so on.  When I asked for a mule to carry all this gear, I was told that the wormhole was too small for that, it would barely allow me through and we needed to hurry in case it closed.

Closed!?!  I could be trapped there?  Well, it wasn't like I'd be on a really bad planet.  The fact that Paxton and Carter were able to survive meant that Barsoom was habitable.  And I'd been on worse planets.

Finally it was done and we left for France. In my time the English and French were arguing over the possibility of a tunnel under the channel but the Rapture would have destroyed it had they built one and their aircraft technology wasn't even up to WWII standards so we took a boat.  I spent the time watching the water, remembering my summers aboard my grandmother's fishing fleet pulling Cod out of the North Atlantic.  I hated fishing but loved the sea.  Even as an Iraqi galley slave and Arab Pirate, I enjoyed the rocking of the Baghla, the Zarook, the Boom and so on.  With the Demons I saw alien oceans, Some drifting in space, some were even living beings a thousand kilometers across and a dozen thick but on Barsoom, the oceans had dried up long before humans walked the Earth.

We needed a wagon to carry our gear across France.  I could see the damage caused by the First World War when French, British, American and German artillery had torn the ground up so badly that even now, two centuries later, the evidence of destruction remained.  When we reached the wormhole/Stargate all my gear was packed into a back-pack and hip-pack and loaded onto my body.  “This stuff weighs a bloody ton!  I can't carry it all!” I insisted.

“You only have to get through the wormhole.  Once on the other side, it'll be a third as heavy and easier to carry.” They responded.

Obviously, they had never been in zero-grav where a hundred pounds of weight still takes the same effort to move even if it is technically weightless.  A big rock may have no weight but when it hits you at 50 mph, it will still crush you like a bug.  So regardless of it being only 30# on Barsoom, it will still have 100# of inertia to overcome every time I set it down and tried to pick it up.  Now I was convinced that I'd strip the pack on the other side.   I'd even bury the radio and return for it later when I learned about my predecessors.

They had three big men help me carry the pack to the wormhole, then as I stood there trying to stand up, someone simply gave me a push from behind and I fell onto my face with all that weight crushing me as I hit the ground and my pack tried to pass through my body to the sweet embrace of gravity.

I don't know how long I was unconscious but I woke up having flashbacks.  The last time I was unconscious the Demons grafted a tail to my arse!  They said it would help me get around in zero-gravity.  The time before that, they turned my little fingers into extra thumbs and the time before that my big toe into a tarsial thumb.  You never knew what those lizard-things would do next so I took to falling asleep with furniture piled up against my room door.

I do recall that as I awoke I was cold and wet and when I moved, things crawled off me so I jumped up in panic and slammed my head against a branch twenty feet overhead.

I awoke again when it was dark, rolled over and immediately upchucked.  My eyes wouldn't focus and even in my confused state I understood that I had given myself a concussion.  So I dragged myself to a nearby tree, leaned against it and passed out again.

This time when I awoke I could see the sun shining through the red leaves(?) of the tree.  How long I lay there I couldn't say.  But I did feel better save for a desperate need for water.  I looked around and saw that I was naked.  Even the fake skin I wore to conceal what the Demons had done to me was gone but I couldn't tell if I had been stripped while unconscious or if my gear, weapons and skin had simply not transferred across the Stargate.  Some are like that.  Some Stargates are one-way, some two-way.  Some allow only living matter and some only inanimate matter to cross.  You never know until you actually step through.  At least nothing had eaten me while I was incapacitated which was a big plus.

On the other hand, Earth biology was left-hand molecules and if Barsoom used right-hand molecules, I would be inedible and possibly poisonous to the locals.  Of course, if that were true, then the local proteins would be inedible and poisonous to me too.  But water was water and left-hand water was identical to right-hand water so I could get a drink at least.  Hopefully my alien biology would be ignored by the local bacteria and parasites too.

I stood up carefully and noted that although I felt lighter, I wasn't as light as I should be so my engineered Weir anatomy had probably adjusted my body to the lower gravity.  No jumping around like a rubber ball to impress the Tharken Hoards though I did feel lighter and stronger than on Earth.

I approached the water carefully and looked around for predators just in case and seeing none, knelt to the water.  It was clear, mostly, and there were small things that I took to be fish so that meant that I'd be eating whatever was lower than they on the food chain but I was so thirsty, I didn't care and cupping my hands to catch some of the water, sipped the liquid slowly to allow my stomach acid time to, hopefully, kill whatever I was ingesting.

Once I had slaked my thirst, I looked around to see where I was and decided that I was in a swamp of sorts.  Ok, if this were really Barsoom, I was probably in the Toonolian Swamp near where Paxton arrived.  Interesting that he had also arrived naked so this was probably an animate-only Stargate.  Of course he left Earth legless from an artillery shell and arrived intact.  Could this be the well-known situation where if you suffer damage, your aura retains the pattern of your healthy self?  Then the Stargate feeds you adequate energy for your aura to reconstruct you as your aura believes you to be?  It would explain why Carter and Paxton arrived healthy and intact but with old scars intact.  Any old injury would eventually force the aura to accept that scar as normal and so the transition would not affect that.  But Paxton's injury that cost him his legs happened moments before he transited so his aura wouldn't have had time to adjust.

Then that means that my aura had already adjusted to what the Demons did to me so accepted this body as normal.  Sometimes I think too much.  But I was glad the Demons had repaired my teeth and eyes so I wouldn't have unfilled cavities or be near blind.

I decided to climb the tree(?) and look around which was a simple thing to do as the changes the Demons made to me to allow me to work in space operated as well in an arboreal environment.  There really isn't much difference between climbing around the struts of a starship and the branches of a tree.  Though I did miss the beamer and shield I had hidden in my bracelet when I returned to Earth.

At the top I could see mostly vegetation, reds and some greens and even the occasional blue.  The sky in the ‘west’ had a pink tinge but the ‘east’ was blue so I assumed that the pink color was due to dust as are the Arizona sunsets that are famous for their reds and pinks.  I did see a structure towards the direction I believed to be west and it wasn't too far away so I climbed down and started off, my tail swinging in time to my genitals which were hanging, unsupported.  This was going to be embarrassing.  I was prudish enough when still human but my Weir adaptions made me doubly embarrassed.  I hated to look at myself in a mirror seeing a face that I recognized but with pointed ears, cat-eyes and antennae staring back.

Whenever I approached a water hazard, I climbed a tree and used the branches to pass overhead.  Traditionally, stepping into water was more dangerous than climbing a tree.  At least I could see what was about to bite me up here.  And the birds(?) were beautiful.   They had four wings and arms and legs and were of every color you can imagine.  Small creatures with eight legs were on the branches and ground and everything seemed to be interested in eating everything else.  I saw something that looked like a cross between a centipede and a salamander crawl past on dozens of legs but it was smaller than I was and ignored me.

And on another occasion something like a snake but with ten legs leapt from the water after me and I barely managed to avoid its lunge.  I leapt into a tree and climbed up but the thing followed until I could go no further then as it reached out to me, I kicked it as hard as I could, heard bones crunch and the thing fell down thrashing as it did so.  Now, I decided, was the time to make weapons.  The problem was I had no tools to cut wood and the swamp offered no rocks of any sort.  I tried to make a rope from the grass but it wouldn't weave as Earthly grass does.

I was thus occupied when something hit me from behind and before I could react, a mouthful of teeth surrounded my head as a heavy weight held me down.  I started to react and push up when a growl made me freeze.  I'd heard junk-yard dogs in Arizona make that sound and it meant “move and I'll bite your head off” so I was very careful to not move.

The thing's breath was horrible.  Hot, humid and I could see three rows of teeth holding my head in place.  Then a moment later I heard a man say something and the thing let me go.  I slowly looked up and saw three men on what could pass for an eight-legged horse assuming that horses were green with sharp teeth.  Each had a rifle pointed at me and the beast that had jumped me was watching nearby.  It had ten legs so I knew that I was on Barsoom and my attacker was a calot and the Red Men were riding thoats.  I also knew that the rifles they carried had a range in miles and shot explosive rounds so I was very careful to not make any moves that they would misinterpret.

I tried to smile, showing no teeth for Demons had two smiles, toothless which was friendly and toothed (similar to human smiles) that meant that they were about to eat your face.  I also held my arms over my genitals until a barked order made me reconsider and hold them up.

One of the men dismounted and approached to looked me over.  I considered jumping him and using him as a shield but he never came close enough so I had to wait.  Finally one tossed some manacles to my observer who snapped something at me and so I held my hands out for him to cuff.  I wasn't happy about the situation but the three were professionals and I knew that they were waiting for me to do something stupid so they could shoot me down.  Dead, I was less of a problem than alive so I cooperated.  So long as I was alive and intact, I could eventually escape.

He looked my tail over and the three talked for a moment and I was afraid that they'd solve the dilemma by amputation but they eventually decided that I was more valuable intact and so tossed me a collar attached to a chain and indicated that I'd better wear the damn thing.  I was tempted to take my chances because the last time I was collared I was a galley slave, starved, beaten and gang-raped by the Iraqis who captured me in Africa but as I tensed, three rifles pointed exactly at my chest so I had to give in.  I collared myself and recalled that I had escaped from Baghdad by making a set of nun-chucks that they thought were a musical instrument.  If necessary, I'd escape her the same way, by killing anyone between me and freedom.

So with one holding my chain in the lead and the other two following, we set off to wherever they wished.  The route was meandering to avoid as much water as possible and I soon noticed that unlike every other slaver I had met, these were not intentionally cruel. When I stumbled, the one holding my chain would stop and wait for me to stand and then continue on.  So I decided to try an experiment.  I called out that I was thirsty and motioned drinking.  One of my guards then rode up, not too close and tossed a water bag to my feet.  They then waited until I had drunk my fill and slung the bag over my shoulder, then we continued on.  Burroughs stressed that honor was common among the Red Men and so I was fortunate that he was truthful.

Along the way I began to learn their language.  Now I am not a linguist.  I spoke Gaelic and English because of my parents and I learned Japanese from when I lived there as a child but my school studies of German, French and Spanish always ended in barely passing grades.  I learned Farsi as a galley slave only because I was flogged at the mast if I didn't (my back still carries those stripes) and Arabic because Pirates had their own way to ensure rapid learning but it took me three years to learn enough Demon to get along.  Of course, the Demon language has 37 different ‘S’ sounds and my tongue couldn't handle a tenth of these.  If Chrysiese hadn't been there as the ships telepath, they probably would have slit my tongue to get me speaking their language.  So I settled down to a long period of incomprehension as I asked words, asked the same again and again until I could understand one word in a thousand.  Some words I knew from my readings: Jed, Jeddak, calot, thoat a few others but I hadn't really read the works of Burroughs since I first left Earth some years ago and my memory was foggy on the specifics of the journals.

Eventually we reached a small walled city in the swamps and upon approaching, I was examined by the gate guards who had me taken to a small room and cleaned off.  I was scrubbed by naked male slaves until the grime and mud and filth of the swamp was gone then my hair was washed and combed and clean, but still naked I was taken along a main street to a large building that I took to be the palace.

All along the way I was the subject of appraisal for I gather that they had never seen a white man with a tail before.  But although many questions were asked of my captors, no harm was done nor any indignity committed.

Finally we reached the palace and after questioning by these gate guards, we entered and waited in a large room until another man entered, spoke to my captors and we entered the main room where a richly costumed man sat on a throne and bade us approach.  We came to within a few dozen feet and stopped at which time my captors bowed to the man on the throne who I took to be their king or Jed so I followed their example.  Politeness was expected and refusal would just get me a beating so why not render unto Caesar what is Caesars?

When the Jed spoke, my captors spoke at length describing, I would imagine, my capture then the Jed turned to me and asked me questions I could not understand.  So I replied in Gaelic that I was lost in his country and asked for his assistance in finding my companions.  When he clearly didn't understand my words, I repeated it in English, then Japanese, then Demon which amazed the court.  I recalled that there was only one spoken language on Barsoom so the fact that I was ignorant of their speech proved that I was not one of them.  The Jed gave an order and I was taken to a room where my chains, but not my collar, were removed and a harness, sans weapons, was given to me so I spent some time adjusting the meager leather to accommodate my tail and add additional covering to my genital region.  As I was thus occupied, a naked female slave entered with a tray of meats and vegetables and set it before me.  She was quite the most beautiful woman I had seen after Desiree who had been a professional model.  However, I also saw that she had little pubic hair and her breasts were very small which implied to me that she was still a child, possibly born to slavery.

She ignored my nudity and my efforts to hold some silk from the bed over my crotch and she then held each object, said a word a couple of times then looked at me.  Obviously I was being given language lessons so I motioned writing and pointed to her then motioned writing again asking in Gaelic for a pen and book.  She quickly understood and ran from the chamber to return a few minutes later with a pen and blank book.  By then I had dressed to the best of my ability and was feeling far more secure in myself with the dangly bits no longer dangling.  It is interesting what effect clothing makes in a man.  I had the same problem with Demons who wore clothing but never understood that I wished the same.

Now as she said a word, I listened carefully, repeated it often until she was satisfied with my pronunciation then I wrote the word, its meaning and a little explanation in my journal.  Thus did I spend my first conscious evening on Barsoom.  It was clear that I was a prisoner but not completely a slave for although I wore a collar, I also wore clothing but little different from the men I had seen.

When the sun set, and the sunset was even more beautiful than the ones I had seen on Earth, it turned dark almost instantly.  One moment the sun was partially above the horizon and I could see, the next it was set and dark almost as if someone had turned a light out.  Within minutes, I was also freezing and I wrapped the furs from my bed around me.

The girl followed with other furs and together we watched the lights go on in the city.  Looking around I was confident that I could climb the outside of the walls for even before being taken and changed by the Demons, I had some skill at climbing cliffs without ropes or pitons.  However, I wasn't being mistreated and without an understanding of the language, escape, although possible, was inadvisable.

The girl turned the lights on inside my small room and continued with our lessons until it occurred to me that I had no idea of her name.  So I touched myself and said, “Jason Obrien!” then I pointed to her and asked her name.  She couldn't understand my words but she did the meaning and replied, “Florina.”  So the girl's name was Florina which was a remarkably Earthlike name for an alien.  And so we continued with our lessons until I grew tired and yawning, pointed to the bed.  She turned redder than before and dropped her eyes but did nothing else so finally, I opened the door and shooed her out so I could get some sleep.

All night I tossed and turned because under the furs I was sweating but without them I was freezing and by the time I was able to find a decent combination that kept me warm and comfortable, it was almost dawn.

I was woken up by someone pulling at me so I got out of bed and Florina screamed and ran off.  I had forgotten that I was naked (I usually sleep in pajamas) and my usual morning erection was obvious.  I also had to pee badly.  I looked around my chamber for a toilet or pot but couldn't find anything that would work and I had used chamber pots in Arabia, bushes in Africa and something aboard Demon ships you don't want to know about.

A moment later an armed guard entered obviously agitated so I pantomimed peeing but he just looked at me in horror.  Damn!  I knew how to say ‘drapes’ and ‘window’ and ‘I’m hungry’ but we never covered bodily excretions and neither did Carter in his journals.  Finally I took a cup and started to pee in it which caused the guard to break out laughing.  He stopped me and took me down the hall to a room that had a bench around the wall with holes at regular spaces and no privacy.  There were two men sitting there with their harness aside so I adjusted mine, moved my tail aside (the Demons gave me a universal joint where the first caudal vertebrae meets the lumbar spine) and sat to do my business.  Aboard a dhow the head is located amidships next to the galley so if the wind changed, you sprayed the cook and dinner.  But everyone there knew what you were like so I was willing to let these Red men watch me pee and shit.  It's not like I had a choice.

The watched me carefully, more out of curiosity than anything else and I saw my guard look behind to see how I kept my tail clear.  Finally I was done and looked around until one of them handed me some papers that were very soft and cleaned me much better than any Earthly toilet paper.  The other men stared and laughed when they realized that I didn't understand their words but sometimes it's better to be thought of as an idiot than a danger so I laughed back.

When my guard returned me to my room, he carefully explained to my slave-teacher what I meant and then he, himself taught me the words for toilet and urinate.  Then he left me in her hands and my lessons continued.  There was one difference though in that she refused to look at me the entire morning.

And so I passed my first few days on Barsoom.  I was locked in a room with a view and taught the language by a young slave who got embarrassed at anything I did.  Now I admit I am a prude.  I lost my virginity at 16 to a bunch of Iraqi sailors who tied me up first.  Most of whom later suffered unfortunate bouts of bad luck such as falling overboard with an anchor line wrapped around their legs or being crushed as we wared the boom or such.  My first experience with a woman was an alien girl to whom I was simply something to do at night. And my only other experience was Desiree who was easily twice my age and with whom I fell hopelessly in love. So now I was on another alien planet and still a horny young man of maybe 24 or 25 (it's hard to tell time on a Demon ship) whose only opportunity was a girl far too young to touch.  In short, I was miserable.

A few days later a guard arrived and he and Florina taught me a short speech and made certain that I was fluent in it along with gestures that made no sense to me.  When they were certain that I could speak clearly and easily, they took me back to the throne room where we were presented to the Jed and I gave my speech.  The Jed approached, accompanied by his guards with hands on weapons until he was within inches of me.  He spoke to me but all I cold do was to point to objects and say their names.  He then retorted angrily as if to say, “I know that is a window and those are drapes and this is a floor but what I don't know is what you are!”

Then he calmed down and examined me in detail.  He touched my ears to see if the points were real, stared at my eye slits which were partially closed in the brightness then tried to touch my antennae which retraced before he could feel them.  Frankly I was glad the Demons had given me that reflex as my antennae were designed to pick up EM fields and were more sensitive than my eyes.

He then held his hand and compared it to mine, noting that instead of a little finger I had a second thumb.  I noted that his hand looked completely human save no hairs and the palm lines were different.  I wondered if he had finger prints.  He then handed me a cylinder and noted how both my thumbs curled around it opposite from my three fingers.

He then looked at my feet and took me to a pole and bade me climb it.  Halfway up he made me stop and examined my feet with their tarsial thumbs around the pole and saw how I used my tail to assist though in reality my tail was designed as a third hand and so wasn't strong enough to support my weight.

He then handed me a long sword and had me face off against a guard so I went into a fencing stance and immediately was disarmed by the guard whose skill was so far beyond mine that I realized that I would be little more than dog-meat were I to try anything stupid.

At that time he spoke to my guards and to Florina who never looked up from her crouch on the floor then dismissed us.

Now in addition to my language lessons I was given fencing lessons which I enjoyed greatly.  I've always had skills at martial arts and enjoyed this part very much and I like to think I was an apt student. Regardless, because of the intensity of my lessons and the simplicity of the Barsoomian language, within a week or so I could communicate with the Red Men to an extent.

“Where am I?” I asked Florina.  “And what is my status here?”

“Are you from the nearer moon as some think?” replied Florina.  “That you are so different from us, speak not our language and do not recognize Ardane, second city of Toonol?  As for your status, Gan Kanar, Jed, has decreed that you be kept here until he decides your fate.  It is only the fear that you come from Thuria that keeps you alive.  More I cannot tell you.”

She refused to say anything else and having been a slave before, I understood her fears of being beaten for disobeying orders so didn't push the situation but practiced the language as much as I could.  I asked questions about Barsoom which she answered in general terms but that was mostly listening so she asked me questions and corrected me every sentence so even simple conversations took forever.  But finally she brought a guard in who talked to me and decreed that I was ready to talk to the Jed.

The next day I was washed, given clean harness and sandals that had been adjusted to my unique anatomy and I was brought in before the king of the city.  I bowed, knelt and made the same speech as before only this time I understood what I was saying, “Hail, Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane, Lord of the Northern Toonoolian Marshes, Protector of the Empire, Master of the air and Lord of all he sees.”  Well, it was nothing when compared to an Arab Sultan whose introduction took days to recite.

“Rise.  Can you understand me now?” the Jed asked.

I readily responded, “I can, O noble Jed!  Thanks to thy wisdom in selecting for your humble servant teachers of such skill, I am now able to speak and respond to your inquiries.”  One thing I learned as a galley slave is manners.  Being overly flattering rarely got you flogged at the mast.

He stepped down to approach but was accompanied by his guards who were alert as always.  Although I was certain that I was stronger and faster than they, I was also unarmed and lacking the technology I had taken from the Demons, I really doubted that I could fight my way through them all.

“My questions are simple: Who are you?  Where are you from? And why are you here?”  Then he stood waiting.

“Noble Jed,” I started.  “My name is Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, and I am from Ireland, a nation upon the face of Jasoom, the nearer inner planet.  I am here seeking others from Jasoom who may have visited your nation last year.  Other than that, I have no designs at all other than to learn what I can of your race and encourage relations between our two worlds.”

“You Lie!” screamed the Jed.  “No Jasoomian looks like you!  You are a spy from another world seeking our destruction.  Tell me the truth before I have you killed on the spot.” And immediately I was surrounded by steel.

I took a deep breath, centered my self and began, “My Lord, Once, but a few years ago I was as are all Jasoomians.  But I was taken by a race who traveled the stars.  They wanted to see if Jasoomians could be useful to them in peace for they had discovered our abilities in war.  So they .. changed me into what you see here.  They changed my eyes to see better, my ears to hear better, my hands to grasp better and my feet to hold onto their ships.  They then gave me a tail that I could have another limb to assist in repairs to their ships.  Sometimes I think that they saw in me a potential servant, and other times I think they simply played upon me a joke I couldn't understand.  I do wish that they had listened to me and made the changes I asked over the ones they wanted for they did make mistakes.

“Then after three years fighting their wars, serving on their ships, they released me back upon Jasoom with no word or explanation.  So I sought employment for my nation was no longer as I remembered it and my title was useless there.  My ancestral enemy against whom I had fought for years to free my people offered me a position to seek out others that had come to Barsoom and here I am.”

“You came here naked and unarmed?” he sat upon his throne and his guards stepped back but kept their swords at the ready.  “That seems very stupid for a spy and diplomat.”

“Noble Jed,” I explained, “I was given clothing and weapons and tools for the journey but they became lost or destroyed in the process and so, like John Carter and Ulysses Paxton before me, I arrived naked.  I was seeking your city when I was found by your noble warriors.”

“Turn around,” he commanded then commented, “Your back bears the marks of an overly-harsh slave-master.  How do you explain this, Oh Jed of Innis?” His sarcasm wasn't lost on me.

“My Lord, My ancestor was the Great Brian Boru, Ard Ri or Jeddak of Erie but then so is he ancestor to half my nation for Obrien means ‘son of Brian Boru’ and millions have that name.  By the time my family was born, all that we possessed was a ruined castle, some land, a lowly title of nobility and a very large tax bill.  So I sought wealth in another nation and was captured by slavers who decorated my back as you see until I was able to escape and recover my families wealth.  Our titles, however, were now honorary for Eire no longer has Royalty or Nobility and they allow us our title as they do our clothes, but give no honor to either.  Thus I am Noble in name only.  And without peasants to support us with their taxes and tithes, I must seek employment where I can.  Even if it is with former enemies against whom I once fought but with whom we are now at peace.”

I hoped that they would respect the title and accept that I was not dangerous.  Both would be to my advantage.

As he thought about this, one of his warriors, whose harness was encrusted with gold and silver, commented, “Sometimes when the airships are tossed about, I wish I had a tail and hands at the end of my legs.” To which others laughed.  I began to notice that there were designs to their harness that seemed to match their swords.  All carried the same basic weapons, Long Sword, short sword, revolver and so on but the man who had recently spoken carried a revolver with a longer barrel than others and his long sword was smaller than the others and more curved.  The guards, however, had longer swords that were slightly curved or straight with ornate knuckle guards and their revolvers had shorter barrels.  In my days as a pirate in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, we carried long barreled handguns to shoot across the water to another ship and shorter scimitars that could be used easily on a crowded deck so this man must be an admiral of the navy.  The infantry would then use longer swords and shorter handguns for there was more room in the field.  The man with a deeper curved and longer sword must be cavalry to allow for a running slash as their thoats passed at high speeds.

My observations were interrupted by the king saying, “I seems that you are an impoverished noble turned panthan.  Are you willing to take service with me?”

Well, that was an interesting turn of events.  “My Lord, I would be honored to serve such an illustrious Jed as yourself, but I must first finish my mission and locate those who preceded me and to report to my employers on the possibility of peace between the two nations.”  I deliberately didn't say ‘our’ nations for although it appeared that Ireland and England had been at peace for 150 years and Ulster was now free, I had been raised to hate the British and old habits die hard.

The king thought for a moment, listened to his advisors then spoke again.  “I praise your loyalty to your nation though you obviously dislike your task and so I will assist you that we may learn about each other.  Remove his collar, give him arms and seek the answers to his questions.  Perhaps when he has finished his task, he will consider service with a nation that has never warred upon his own people.”  And with that I was dismissed.

I was taken to the armory where my collar was removed and I was offered a choice of swords and such, but no revolvers.  Apparently they didn't trust me that much.  So I tested a few swords and chose a curved blade with a longer handle with which I could try kendo techniques.  For a short sword I chose one with an 18” straight blade and the others I took whatever I saw for I had no opinions there.  My harness was still plain with no embellishments but that was acceptable to me.  Then when I returned to my room, alone this time, Florina was there to congratulate me, though now she prostrated herself before me.

“I apologize, my Lord,” she began, “for rejecting your advances and for my familiarity to your noble personage.  Please forgive this lowly slave.”  I could see she was scared and I could see that were I such as some Arab and European nobles I knew, she would expect a good beating and rape if she were lucky.  However, despite the title I so freely tossed around here, I was raised as a commoner and worked side by side with farmers and fishermen so had none of that false ego that is the hallmark of those born and raised to position.

I tried to soothe her fears.  I was only 16 when I was a galley slave and I still remembered the starvation, hard work, beatings and rapes that accompanied that situation and I wasn't going to see this young girl who I guessed to be about 15 suffer the same.  So I knelt to her, raised her chin so I could look into her eyes and said, “I know I look strange and my customs are as strange as my appearance, but please know this, by my life's blood I shall never harm you and shall do everything in my power to protect you.”  And then I took my dagger and made a cut across the palm of my hand to seal the vow.  My ancestors sealed their vows by swearing on their genitals but I suspected that this action would be taken wrong so I settled for a more modern version.

Regardless, she understood and smiled and thanked me.  “Thank you for this courtesy to a lowly slave.  I was given to you to serve you in any way you need or desire.  Command and I will obey, before from need, now by desire.”

First things first.  I wasn't a virgin, being forced by the slavers then willingly to Chrysiese and Desiree but I was a prude and needed to cover her up a bit.  She reminded me too much of Chrysiese who was an adult with the body of a child, so much had her Fairy race adapted to the S’tyr world over the last thousand years.  But Desiree who was more than twice my age had taught me about women and I found that I preferred my women to be adult, built like a woman and willing.  “Florina, is there a way for you to clothe yourself?  Among my people nudity isn't common and I'd prefer you to cover up a bit?”

“Some slaves are allowed a simple harness and if my master orders, I can find some to wear for him.”

“It's not an order, just a request,” I said.  “Please go and find this harness while I figure out what to do next.

Over the last few years, I had been on a dozen worlds and every time I found a race that looked human, I discovered that they were human.  Most had been taken by the Demons and planted here and there and then allowed to change as they adapted to their new worlds but any race that wasn't derived from Earth, didn't look anything humanoid at all.  Even the aliens on the old Star Trek TV shows must have all been derived from human ancestry so I would imagine that these Barsoomians were the same.  After all, they could easily pass for human and John Carter proved that they were, despite their egg-laying system of reproduction, interfertile with humans so they MUST be human derived.  I vaguely remembered that they believed that they were evolved from a tree that lived some millions of years ago but then, there were people on Earth who believed that women were cloned from a man's rib so people had strange beliefs.  The Green Men would be the original inhabitants of this world with the humans being planted later.  I'd have to talk to their scientists to find out more.

From then on I practiced my sword skills in earnest.  There is something noble about three feet of steel in your hand, the jar when it strikes bone, the shine of the steel that made me fall in love with the thing.  When I fought in the Kris Wars and in Belfast, we rarely saw our enemy, killing them at a distance so this facing the man who intends to kill you was a new experience.  But despite my adapting to the Barsoomian gravity (how long would I take to re-adapt to Earth's gravity?) I was still far stronger than my opponent and could beat their blades aside with sheer strength alone.  Also I began to notice that sometimes I could receive a flash of emotion or intention or sometimes even a picture.  The Barsoomians were partially telepathic so I must be benefiting from this.

Then, as an excuse to expand my language skills, I would take Florina around the city and ask questions about everything.  Now that I was a free man, she readily answered all that I asked but insisted on walking a couple steps behind me so I often had to turn to speak to her.

The city was interesting.  Demons have no cities at all despite their technology and I was never able to figure out how they managed that but the Mon, descended from English just after the Norman invasion, did and many of these had buildings that rose a mile high.  Ardane had buildings never more than a half-dozen stories but this was because of the swamp which provided no bedrock to support anything heavier.  The city was also like Venice in that there were many shallow canals, as many as streets and boats were as common as fliers or ground cars.  I was told that there were screens at the walls to prevent dangerous animals or people from entering but there were many fish in the city canals.

Once I borrowed a canoe of sorts, though this was made of some metal that was white and very light and thin, and I insisted on paddling as in Ireland I had paddled curroughs and in Arizona and Japan my father insisted on me learning to row though he had forgotten to teach me how to swim.  This made Florina nervous as she wanted to paddle but I insisted and neither of us was comfortable though I loved the sights from below.

Finally after a couple weeks Florina commented that I looked sick and took me to a doctor.  I hadn't paid much attention as I was hot during the day, cold at night and none of the food tasted right so I attributed my weight loss to my body loosing bone-calcium and muscle-mass in the lighter gravity.

The doctor looked me over, examined every part of me, took samples of blood, saliva, lymph fluid and even urine then bade me return in a day or so.  Doctors made me nervous.  I could never be certain that one would decide to graft wings on my back or dermal plates to my skin or vivisect me to see what I looked like inside.

When we returned he reported that my liver as inflamed due to food poisoning and I was suffering a nutritional deficiency.  Apparently I wasn't doing well with the local foods and he gave me a strict diet that was little more than plant milk and potatoes with a lot of vitamin pills.  Then he shoved a needle into my liver to drain the poisons off which hurt a lot.  Unfortunately, since Florina was present at all times, I couldn't show pain and gritted my teeth and suffered.

In Arabia and Africa I had dysentery which helped me loose that extra hundred pounds I carried and could never loose in our sugar-infested society though my arse was raw daily.  Here I was the opposite, constipated and malnourished.  This is why human colonists always terra-formed their worlds.

One night I was sitting on my balcony looking at the city, wrapped in my furs when Florina approached and crawled in next to me.  I could feel her body heat and as she wrapped my arm around her shoulder my hand rested on her bare breast which made me very nervous.  I tried to move but she held it firm so I thought of everything I could to avoid the inevitable reaction to the situation.

“Where did you come from, child?  Were you born to slavery?” I asked.

“No, My Lord,” she responded for since learning of my lineage she ceased to call me ‘master’ and used the more honorable title.  “I was captured by a raiding party twenty years ago when my husband and I sought to travel from my native Amhor to Jahar. He was killed defending me and I was sold to the palace and have been here since.”

I was shocked!  This girl who looked 16 was married and then a slave for 20 years?  I knew Barsoomians matured late but…. “How old are you Florina?” I asked dreading the answer.

“One hundred and thirty years.”

I forgot about her breast under my hand and tried to do some calculations… 1.89 Earth years = 1 Martian year so 20 years of slavery equals …37.8 years.  She'd been a slave for longer than I've been alive.  Then 130 Martian years times 1.89 equals…. 245.7 Earth years.  She was hatched about halfway between the Salem Witch trials and the American Revolution or just before the Irish famine of 1739.  She was definitely NOT a teen-aged girl.  Of course the Barsoomians, being egg layers wouldn't need breasts so what they had would be sexual attractions and not for nursing.  And the Barsoomians, being relatively hairless, wouldn't have much pubic hair in their women.  This changed things.  At least Chrysiese had really thick pubic hair despite her very small breasts and horse-tail.

“What of you, My Lord?  I know of your being taken by another race and changed from Jasoomian to what you are now but what of your life?”

“I was born in Ireland about… 80 years ago.  My country was conquered by another and I fought to free it but lost.  So I searched for treasure to rebuild my family fortune and succeeded there but was taken into slavery until I escaped by killing anyone who stood between me and freedom.  Then I became a pirate because the alternative was death and when I killed my captain over a slave girl, I became a panthan in Africa until I could return home.  Shortly after that, I was captured by the Demons who did this to me and I'm still getting used to what changes they made.  It seemed like every time I fell asleep, I awoke with another change to my body.  Then I was returned to Jasoom and had to find a way to survive and my former enemies offered me a chance to come here and seek others of their race who they sent to Barsoom to establish contact.  Unfortunately, the first team was lost and I was sent to find them.  When I do, I report back so they can try to make friends again with your people.”

“And, My Lord,” she continued, “What of your own life?  Have you a princess at home?”

Princess?  That means lover, wife, betrothed?  “Florina, I am about 13 of your years old.  I've never had a chance to settle down but I've had two lovers in my life, one left me and the other is still a friend but no longer a lover.  I don't think I am ready to marry for my people, the Irish men, marry late in life.  And I won't marry until I have lands and wealth to support a family.”

“Thirteen?” she laughed but held my hand closer, “We are not fully adults until we are forty.  To me you are still a child.  I must keep that in mind.”

I laughed at the thought, “And among my people I am an adult but will die of old age around 40 to 50 of your years and you look like one of our children.  It's very hard for me to think of you as an adult who is a widow and three times as old as our oldest possible person.”  She was such a complex person.  Far older than many Earth nations, a face that would be beautiful anywhere on earth, the rounded curves of a woman and the breasts and pubes of a child.  I was drawn and cautious at the same time.

“Forgive me for being forward but you are kinder than any Barsoomian I know.” She said.  “We are a chivalrous race and protect our women but as a slave I have been shown not much kindness.  I am sorry for being frightened by you in the early days.  It was your right to use me and when you sent me away, I was glad.  Then the next morning when I saw how you were, I was afraid that you'd take me and instead of submitting as I should have, I ran.  Now I know that you would never force me or demand from me anything that I chose to not give.”

Drat!  For a moment I thought I would get lucky.  Now she has to talk about protection and honor.  Again I tried to move my hand and again she pressed it closer.  “My Lord?” she asked and as I looked down to her she kissed me then snuggled closer under my arm.  I never dated either in Ireland or America, being too fat and busy in school, then when I could, I was abducted and the only women I had been intimate with both chased me.  I had no idea of what to do here.  Was I supposed to kiss her back or treat her like a sister or what.  Once again I wished that my father had been around to give me the birds-and-bees talk. So I just sat there, holding her and thinking.  I liked her but didn't love her and didn't Barsoomian women prize their honor and chastity?  Didn't calling a woman ‘princess’ equal a proposal?  If I tried for sex, would that imply rape or marriage?  The S’tyr are very casual about sex and I was just something for Chrysiese to do at night.  Desiree was passionate and was with me because she liked me and in both cases, they made the moves onto me.

Eventually I yawned and Florina stood up and said, “My Lord, you are tired, you should get some sleep.” And she stood there in a harness that hid her pubic region but revealed her breasts.  She looked like a woman now, maybe it was the harness hiding her childish pubic area, maybe it was knowing how old she really was but now she looked different.  As small as they were, I found her breasts inviting and wished I could touch them again but dared not.  So I bade her good night and waited for her to leave.  Then I undressed and crawled under my furs where I spent a restless night.

The next day I was called before the king again who said, “I have sent patrols into the swamp to search for your lost people.  I am told that Vad Varo (the Barsoomian name for Ulysses Paxton) appeared in Ras Thavis’ tower and as you appeared only a few haads away, we focused our search in that area.  Here is what we found!”

He pointed to a nearby table that held two human skulls or what I took to be human but could have been Barsoomian for all I knew.

“These are not the skulls of a Red Man and they are very similar to yours so we believe that here are two of your three Jasoomians.  They appear to have been killed by slilians.  I don't know about the third but naked and unarmed as you were and suffering from our food as you do, I believe that the last is dead. Unless he was captured by someone who cared enough to save them, and be aware that I took care of you only because you interested me, had the third man arrived here, he'd be in chains and dead of food poisoning, he is dead.

“Now, Lord Jason Obrien, you must pay for your life, your room and board and your weapons as well as for the service I did for you.  You have no friends here and all would kill you or enslave you if they had a chance.  I am the closest you have to freedom so loyalty to me is your best chance for life.

“It is your climbing ability that interests me.  You can climb where we cannot and so I wish you to visit Toonol and spy on a certain man for me.  I believe that he has an interest in my lands.  You can climb the outside of his walls as we cannot and so your path will be unguarded.  Then if he is planning any action against me, bring me that proof that I may confront him before the Jeddak.  Can I trust you to do this thing for me?”

“Yes my Lord, you can,” I responded, “Provided you give me one boon.  My slave Florina, I wish her freed and returned to her home of Amhor.  Promise me this and I will gladly serve you in this matter.”

The king laughed then said, “You could have asked for wealth and the power of a real title and yet you care for a slave.  How wondrous are you Jasoomians.  Very well, upon your return, she will be freed and allowed to return to Amhor.  You will leave just before sunset that you arrive in Toonol as the sun sets.”

And with that I was dismissed.  I returned to my room to find Florina there and told her of my deal but somehow she wasn't as thrilled as I thought she would be.  “Aren't you happy to return to your home after all these years?” I asked.

“Very much, My Lord,” she replied, “Though I will miss you and your kindness.”

“Are you afraid that your family will disown you for your slavery?” I questioned.  I recalled that when Cornwall had been given control over Ireland he sold one of five Irish into slavery in the New World.  Even today the Obregon's of Mexico are relatives of mine that had once been slaves.

She laughed and answered, “There is a difference between slavery and freedom. What a slave must do when ordered is acceptable.  If she were to do the same thing free, she would be disgraced.  Sometimes slaves have more freedom than a free woman.

“My Lord, I think I should go with you.  You are still ignorant of our customs and may make a mistake that would get you killed in a duel.”

“It's too dangerous.  I'll attract too much attention as it is and if I do something stupid, I can easier escape if I don't worry about your life.”

She argued with me and eventually I agreed for we Irish are used to listening to our women.  What my father saw as weakness, I saw as good sense for a cast-iron frying pan is a great equalizer of strength, especially when the man is asleep.  So I sent a message to the king and promised to return without the advantage of the hostage he wished to possess and he did agree.  Curious this Barsoomian honor.  I gave my word and he accepted it.  There was no argument or negotiating a new price.

So that afternoon we climbed aboard a flier and left for the east.  Unfortunately I very quickly began to suffocate and collapsed from lack of oxygen.  The Martian air was so thin I needed to stay close to the ground to breathe.  The flyer dropped to a lower altitude and I soon recovered though Florina cried over me the rest of the trip.  I hoped that this man I was to spy upon lived close to the ground or I'd pass out again long before I reached his room.

We reached Toonol at sunset and when stopped by the patrols, we gave our identity papers and they gave us a cursory look then waved us on.  Florina mentioned that they never even looked at me and never noticed that I was an alien.

Keeping my problem in mind, the flyer landed on the roof of a low building for all hangers are on the roofs of their buildings to save space in a walled city.  Then we dropped in a magnetic elevator to find a room to rent and were separated with Florina sent to the female slave quarters and I and my Red companions to a hall that housed a couple dozen people.  Of course, I immediately attracted attention.  Part of it was my white skin and light brown hair which implied that I was an Orovar or one of the original races, the rest was because of my feet, tail, ears, hand and eyes.  The men and women asked countless questions and I answered them truthfully.  I was from Jasoom.  I had been taken by Demons who changed me. I was a panthan in the service of Gan Kanar.  I never visited Toonol before. Their city was beautiful.  I've never heard of that poet.  I wasn't staying long.  And so on.

Finally I placed my extra gear on my cot and left it alone for theft was unknown on Barsoom.  Demons never stole either but that was because they owned nothing, being socialists, so I had no problem walking away with my entire wealth sitting on a bed in a dormitory for all to see.  Florina was waiting for us in the hall and the three of us took a walk through the city where both the pilot and Florina explained about Toonol for me.

There were no temples because Toonolians were atheists though Florina followed the Issus religion that had been discredited by John Carter a century ago.  It had re-formed but this time it had adapted to modern conditions and so was not exactly the same as the original so strongly did man need the comfort of faith.  As Florina was explaining her beliefs, the pilot was countering them as would any good atheist.

Being Irish, half my family and half my grandmother's money went to the church but I had been kicked out as a child for asking too many questions like ‘why was my mother excommunicated and damned to hell for divorcing an abusive husband but he was not for killing my brother in a drunken rage?’  So frankly, I was on the atheist side of things.

They showed me how the houses rose on poles at night to avoid assassins but the larger buildings could not be so they used armed guards and window nets that I'd have to avoid until I could climb the walls.  Martians, being poor climbers, wouldn't look up once I got above their heads unless I was noisy.

Finally my pilot took us into a tavern where we had a meal and wine with Florina serving us both.  Then we left and separated with the pilot to draw attention away from us and I took Florina into some bushes until the crowd left.  Holding her close to hide better, I was drunk enough to ask why I had a private room in smaller Ardane but stayed in a dorm in much larger Toonol?

“Because, My Lord,” she said as she pressed herself close to me to hide better.  I wrapped my cloak around us to add concealment though her pressing against me was distracting.  “You have status in Ardane and so are guaranteed a private room.  I sleep with a half hundred slaves in Ardane. But here you have no position so must sleep with the men as I sleep with the slaves. In Ardane, you have privacy to do as you wish”

She was whispering into my ear to prevent noise and I found her breath and occasional touch of her lips upon my earlobes to be very sensual.  That plus her rubbing against me in the confines of the bushes was exciting me and it took all my strength to push her away before I raped her as we stood.  Time to focus.  I whispered into her ear that the road was clear and I needed to do my task so she took my cloak and long sword and I climbed a tree(?) to clear the wall then ran to the building before the guards could see me.  Once there I hid in another bush and when the yard was clear, I began to climb the wall. Barsoomians decorate their walls and as the Red Men have little climbing ability, they see no reason to change this pattern.  Thus I had an easy time climbing.  Frankly, anyone on Earth skilled in scaling could easily do this, my feet and tail simply made it easier.

Once at the tenth floor, I moved around to the chosen window and listened for awhile.  I heard nothing suspicious so hung there for a couple hours until the lights went out and all left the room.  Then I entered and looked around, my enhanced vision allowing me to see in the semi-darkness as if it were twilight.  Finally I found some papers that showed a map of Ardane and the surrounding area so being ignorant of the written language, I took photographs of the papers with a camera that I had been given and searched for anything with the name ‘ardane’ or ‘gan kanar’.  Finding little else (it would have helped had they taught me to read too) I left as I had entered and returned to the wall where I found Florina still waiting.  She hugged me and kissed me in happiness and wouldn't let me go until I had kissed her in return.  I do confess that her lips were very soft.

We then returned to the building where we stayed and I would have gotten lost had Florina not been there to guide me. So we had a late meal and she asked me to take her to the roof where we hid the camera in our flyer and relaxed.  I don't recall us saying much though it was cold and she huddled next to me under our furs as we sat in the flyer.  But eventually some other people arrived and she said something that I recognized as an obscenity, though I had no idea of why, and we returned to our rooms.

The next morning we left for Ardane and upon giving the camera to the king, I was released and told that I could free Florina at any time and a flyer would take her home.

When I told her that she was free she simply said, “My Lord, I refuse to be freed.”

“Why not?” I asked.  “Is not that your dream to return home?”

“My Lord, you are very stupid to not see what any blind man would see in an instant.  Were I free, I must return home immediately and avoid dishonor.  But as your slave and with a private room, you can command,” and then she dropped her harness to stand there naked “And I must obey.  None would think ill of me to do as you order while I wear your collar. Please, My Lord, order me.”

Ok, I'm a fool but not that much of one.  She didn't have a frying pan or a 2x4 but I finally understood and took her in my arms and gave her the order I had wanted to give for a very long time.

II: In the Swamp

We were sitting in the garden watching insects(?) flitter around the flowers(?).  The colors were strange but then everything was strange since the Demons changed me.  People on Earth used to complain about those little bald runty aliens abducting them, shoving a camera up their backsides and then dumping them back home a few hours later.  HAH!  Try being abducted by reptilian Demons from a planet ten thousand light years away.  Then let them experiment on you for three years, grafting a tail onto your rear, changing your eyes and ears so nothing looked or sounded or felt the same.  And then be returned more than a century after they took you.  THEN they can complain.

I looked at my hand and saw three fingers and two thumbs, one on either side of my hand.  I knew it was flesh colored but it didn't completely look like that now.  Oh, it was basically flesh-tone but now I saw a dozen colors I hadn't noticed before, I saw blood pumping through the veins and the veins pulsed a heat glow with every heart-beat.  When I moved my fingers, I … I needed another word, something to describe how my antennae picked up the e-m fields generated by my nerves.  The Demons had a word for it but speaking Demon made my throat and tongue hurt.  The Race had more than thirty-six different ‘S-sounds.’

And here I am now, on Mars.  Well, technically I was on Barsoom.  I didn't even know if Barsoom and Mars were the same place even though I had looked through their telescopes and seen Earth.  Earth was the third planet sunward and Barsoom the fourth and it was red so I should be on Mars.  Through their telescopes I had seen the nuclear wasteland that was my home.  Seen the trolls that used to be human prowl the countryside seeking prey, seen the terminator robots hunting the survivors who were dying from the plagues.  Seen the ruins of Los Angeles under a hundred feet of water forty miles from shore.  Seen central Africa under water.  And seen the remnants of Humanity trying to pick up the pieces of their existence.  The Barsoomian telescopes were that powerful.

And I didn't even now what year it was.  I had been abducted around 1970.  The survivors on earth were so busy trying to just survive that they forgot to count the years but I figured that it was around 2150.  I had been gone three years, I think, and a century and a half had passed while I was gone.  Maybe Einstein was right after all.

Something passed nearby so I picked it up with my feet.  The Demons had moved my big toe to my heel just behind the arch and made it into a tarsial thumb and said it would help me hold onto things in zero-gravity.  I tried to foot(?) it to my hands but I wasn't that flexible.  Good thing I didn't mention that or they'd probably have turned my legs into octopus arms.  So I reached out and curled my tail around the thing and held it close to see.

“I'll never get used to how you do that,” Florina said.  She had been given to me as a slave some six months ago when I first arrived here and I had tried to free her but she refused.  “A slave is free to do things a free woman cannot” she had told me.  And so we became lovers.  Had she been free, we couldn't touch so she chose this as the solution for her feelings. I didn't have enough experience with women to understand.  Come to think of it, my experience with women was restricted to exactly three, and two were aliens.  There should be a word for that too.  Bestiality wasn't it for Florina and Chrysiese weren't animals, they simply weren't human. Exterality!  That’s it!   Extra-Terrestrial sexuality!  Physical congress with a non-human sentient being.  I don't know what the Red Men thought of her being with me.  Probably nothing for she was a slave and my property so I could do to her whatever I wished.  Had she been free, they might have stoned her to death for exterality because I wasn't a Red man and I certainly wasn't human any more.  Or her family would kill me for disgracing a free Red Woman.

“What do you call this?”  I asked.

“It's a *****,” she said.  I had her repeat it a dozen times until I could pronounce it.  Six months later and I was still learning the language.

“It's pretty how those insects(?) are pollinating the flowers(?),” I said.

“Pollinating?” she asked.  “What is pollinating?”

I explained to her how earth insects would be attracted to a flower which would feed it in return for moving sperm/pollen from one plant to another so they could breed.  She burst out laughing.  “Flowers(*) using insects') to reproduce.  What a strange world.  No, look closely at that one.”

I did and when the insect(?) entered to collect or leave what I thought was pollen, the flower(?) closed.  From the e-m fields generated, I now saw the flower(?) had a nervous system.  Heat was building up and I asked, “Is it eating the bug?”

“Of course it is.  The flower') grows something for the insect') to eat. And every few insects are themselves eaten.  Plants') don't need help to reproduce, they do that on their own.  But they need food so they create these eating places to lure prey.”

“Why don't they eat every insect(?)?” I asked.

“Because is they did, the insects(*) would stop visiting them.”

Well, I guess it made sense.  People here laid eggs, flowers ate bugs. Animals were intelligent.  What else?  The thing I was holding started to scratch my tail so I set it on the moss and it crawled away on a hundred legs.

It was dark now and the atmosphere was so thin that when the sun set, it was like turning off a light switch.  And it was also like the air conditioning went on high at sunset.  I wrapped my cloak around me and Florina's around her. She never got used to me being kind to her but I had been a galley slave on Earth and learned the lesson of the lash and had no wish to use such an instrument on her.

“My Lord, men approach.” She said.  Her telepathy was superior to mine, despite the Demon's work and she always knew when someone was nearby.

It was dark and so my eye slits had opened so I could see in the dark but I still needed some light and in this dark, everything was black-and-white, only as if I were seeing it through sunglasses.  I could see better at night than before but even Demon-enhanced night vision was monochromatic and required some light.  Then I saw the torch.  Cold light from a radium cell, but those carrying it were glowing with body heat and they stood out as if they were carrying firebrands.  There were three of them and with the Barsoomian concept of clothing, or lack of clothing, they glowed all over except where their cloaks blanketed them.

“Lord Innis,” one called.  “Gan Kanar wishes to speak to you.  Come with us please.”  I shrugged and caressed Florina's cheek with my tail as I turned to leave.  She kissed the tip and I suppose she watched me leave before returning to our quarters.  When the king calls, you obey and Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane of the Empire of Toonol had been very gracious to me.  He had decreed that my Irish title be accepted on Barsoom and so I was again minor nobility.  He had allowed me a certain freedom and paid me well for my services.  All things considering, I was well-off serving the man.  And all I had to do was pretty much anything he told me to do.

When we reached the throne room I stopped, bowed and said, “Greetings Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane and the northern Toonolian marshes.  I come at your bidding.”

He told me to rise and started up for it wasn't his way to waste time.  “Jason Obrien (he never used the title he insisted others call me), I have need of your service one again.  Look here.”

I approached and saw a large map of the marshes.  It looked like every other map I saw of the Marshes.  Mostly green and blue as if someone had tossed two pigments that wouldn't mix and tried to stir them together.  There was almost no brown.  In the East was a city labeled Toonol, in the west another city marked Phundahl and a number of smaller cities scattered here and there across the Marsh with Ardane prominently marked in the north near Toonol.  This map, however, had a small device that I recognized as from the harness of a Phundahl soldier sitting on the map.

“Some weeks ago we discovered a number of flyers from Phundahl flying towards and away from this point.  The border between the empires of Toonol and Phundahl are unmarked and determined more by military presence than negotiation.  I believe that Phundahl is trying to build a base here to establish claim to our part of the marshes.  I want you to go there and spy upon them and learn what you can.  Then report back to me immediately.”

I looked at the map and said, “My Lord, Wouldn't it be easier to simply send a flyer over the see?”

He looked a the map and said, “If we do, then they will know that we know that they are there.  I wish you to be subtle.  Sneak in, spy and sneak out without them learning of your presence.  With the information you bring, we will decide what to do and if we choose to attack, then they will not be forewarned.  You leave tomorrow before dawn.”  And with that I was dismissed.

It was clear why he wanted me.  Most nations around the Marshes had heard of Gan Kanar's alien Panthan so if I were caught, they'd instantly now that he was aware of them.  But I had talents that were useful here.  Those modifications that the Demons created in me to work their starships worked equally well in a jungle or forest or swamp.  I could climb from tree to tree and avoid being sucked into the ooze.  I could climb any wall they built and hide in the rafters of their buildings for like Earthlings, Red Martians never looked up.

Florina wasn't happy, “He uses you as if you were his slave.  He sends you on dangerous missions alone.  We should leave here.”

“And if I went elsewhere, what would be my reception?  Death?  Imprisonment in the pits?  Slavery?  Gan Kanar was right, I serve him because he has never harmed me and any other place would.  If we went to your home of Amhor, what would happen?  If you arrived a slave, I'd be killed by your family.  If you arrived a free woman, we would never be together for they wouldn't allow you to associate with an alien panthan.  Have you any other ideas?”  I demanded.

She knelt, “No my Lord.  I think every day to no avail.”

I sat and pulled her to my lap.  “I'm not happy either but I've learned to accept things until I can find a way to change them.  Yes, if I told Gan Kanar I was leaving his service, he'd reward me and let me go.  But where would I go?  Where would we go?”

I sighed at what I would say next.  “I've been here half a year now and have risen from prisoner to minor noble.  From penniless to secure.  From alone to having a King to serve and you by my side.  I've done very well for myself so far.  I may never go further but at least I am here.  Yet, John Carter had become Prince of Helium by this time.  Vad Varo became Prince of whatever city he married a princess of by this time.  I almost feel as if I had let my planet down by NOT doing those things.”

“My Lord, I am sorry I am not the princess you deserve.  Even when free, I was a commoner of no position or wealth.  You should send me away and seek a woman of position.”  She said into my chest.

“And why would I do that?  Princess’ are always kissing frogs looking for a prince to marry and complaining about peas under their beds or getting locked into towers that are guarded by dragons or kidnapped by villains.  No, I know when I am well off.  You may not have the title and position of a Princess but at least I know that you care for me and you take care of me and what could be better?” I laughed.  “I'm much happier with you.”

“Then, My Lord, let me make you happy before you leave.”  She smiled that way that proved that she was a woman.  But I said, “First I need supplies.  I doubt that I can live off the marsh as John Carter does off the desert.  So please collect for me the foods and medicines I will need.  I go to the armory and collect ammunition.”  And so kissing her again, we left for our own deeds.

It was only the last month that Gan Kanar had allowed me to carry firearms.  He had called me in after a successful mission and said, “Jason Obrien, of all my retainers yours is the only mind I cannot read.  From what I hear this is peculiar to Jasoomians so I must trust my feelings and not your thoughts.  If you harbor ill will against me, I don't know it.  If you have ambitions, I don't know it.  So when faced with the unknowable, do what you feel is the best path.  Here is a revolver.  Take ammunition from the armory and learn to use it.”

The weapon was a marvel.  Not as effective as a Demon beamer but far more so than any Earthly weapon.  It was a very small caliber, maybe half that of a .22.  But the cylinder carried a hundred rounds, each carrying a small nuclear charge that could blow a hole the size of a fist in a man's chest.  The rifles were larger and more powerful but the revolver was a comforting weight on my right hip.

We packed my gear and double checked to ensure I had everything then she said goodbye in the manner that fighting men have always been sent off.  My escort had to pound very hard to wake me up in the morning.

I huddled in the flyer, wrapped in my furs to stay warm and the flyer left the city, flying low to allow me to breathe and to avoid detection by the enemy.  And soon enough, it landed, and as I leapt over the side, the pilot called, “Signal and I will return,” then he was gone and I had to find my way across kilometers of marshland to seek my goal.

Once off the flier, I removed my long-sword and clipped it across my back.  The less I had banging against my legs and tail, the easier my travels would be.  Having my sword there made it impossible to draw so I would have to avoid trouble if I could.

Crossing the marshes was miserable.  Between the mud and water and reeds, I spent half my time knee to waist deep in muck.  It was worse than an Irish bog during the rains.  I tried to take to the trees(?) and that usually worked as many of the branches were close enough together for me to step or jump from one to the other.  However, I was standing on one branch looking for my next step when I felt something wrap around my leg.  Looking down, I expected a serpent but was, instead a vine.  I stepped but it tightened so I drew my short sword and cut it in twain.  Big mistake for the tree(?) reacted and suddenly I was the target of a dozen vines.  Hacking about me I jumped away, not caring where I landed and was fortunate to reach solid ground.  The tree(?) was whipping its vines around seeking me or any prey and I found myself wondering if I were as to this as an insect(?) to the flowers(?) in Ardane.

OK, reality check.  Barsoom was a dying planet and so evolution was going all out to survive a loosing battle.  Everything on this world was intelligent to an extent.  Everything on this planet possessed some telepathic ability.  And everything on this planet survived by killing and eating something else and thinking that I was on the top of the food chain would get me killed real fast.  MY main advantages were that I was stronger and faster than any Red Man, I tasted bad to the local insect(?) life and the Barsoomians couldn't read my thoughts so I was an empty space in their mental perception.

I kept on, remembering my directions and since Barsoom lacked a strong magnetic field, I had to note direction by the position of the sun and moons, their directions and the time of day.  Travel on Earth was a lot easier.

I had no real schedule so I stopped and ate when I was hungry and usually while sitting in a tree(?) because although the local wildlife may not like biting me, they seemed to enjoy what I was eating.  I got to the point where I'd sit in a tree(?) holding on with feet and tail, use one hand to eat and the other to sweep bugs and vermin away.  This is where my engineered body was a benefit.  When I was crossing Africa, back when I was still human, George and I sat in a tree for a day and a half waiting for a pride of lions to leave and had to use both hands to hold on which left us unable to use any weapons or swat flies.  Now I could grasp a branch with my feet, wrap my tail around another for stability and have both hands free.

I was finishing my latest meal when I saw the flier approach.  It was a little to the north so had I not seen it, I might have missed the Phundahl base completely.  So I noted its position as it dropped and figured it was about three kilometers… no about eight or nine Haads away.  I had to get used to the local measurements.  At least they used a base-10 so I could count on my fingers when I converted.  Demons used base-12, adding two more numbers which I called tic and tac between nine and ten.

I cleaned up, starships are fanatical about cleanliness and taught me well, then headed for my target.

About a couple of Haads away, I saw the first sentry.  I had been going slow and carefully through the trees when I noticed him walking his rounds.  He wasn't making any effort at concealment so I settled in and started to look for hidden snipers.  Maybe the sentry was a diversion?

No heat sources or e-m fields were noticeable which didn't mean a lot as a thick blanket of mud and grass could hide those.  Usually though when a sentry knows he is bait, he keeps glancing to his hidden protector to make certain that he is still safe.  This one did nothing of the sort and kept scanning the marshes.  I noted a clear overhead path and bypassed him easily.  I could say a lot about Gan Kanar but the man did know his business and I was learning a lot from him.  Sometimes I think he would drop some saying like ‘why hire advisors that you won't listen to’ because he was thinking out loud and it was these gems of wisdom I memorized.

I was easily able to get into the Phundahl camp via the trees which they hadn't bothered to cut down.  Perhaps they liked the vegetation, perhaps it was good cover but they never thought that someone like me existed so they would suffer for their ignorance.

I traveled around the camp slowly, waiting in the foliage until the coast was clear enough for me to leap across the distance or drop to the ground and run to my next hiding place.  Each time I took a great amount of time to ensure my new position would be safe before I moved so moving even a Haad sometimes took an hour.  At every opportunity I took pictures with the camera I carried.  Unlike Earthly cameras, this one didn't used film but recorded the images in three dimensions somehow.  I could point it at a person and not only have a 3-d image but it also could determine his range and size and weight and the time and date I took the picture.  Whenever I saw the moons in the sky near each other, I'd take their pictures too so the tacticians in Ardane could use their positions and view at that time to more easily locate the camp.

In short I was happily spying on the enemy as was my task when the sun set.

I settled down, wrapped in my furs that had been dyed to match the vegetation and waited for the soldiers to settle down and sleep before I made my next move.

The Phundahl soldiers eventually settled down and the lights dimmed.  Somehow the Barsoomian lights recycled their energy.  John carter said that the light they emitted returned to the lamps which was impossible for if that could happen how did we see without scattered light?  No, they had some way of ensuring that the light was short range only so if you were a Haad away, the light was gone.  This was impossible as energy continues forever, dimming only because it spreads over a large area so there was something here to cause the light to diffuse quickly.  They did this not to save energy but to prevent approaching aircraft from seeing the city from miles away.

Regardless how they did it, and what I saw the demons do was always impossible by Earthly science, it worked and if I was a Haad away from a lamp, I was in darkness even though anyone under that lamp was visible.  Then another Haad and the light from that lamp faded away.  Tactically, it was good and bad, good because you could illuminate your entire camp but be invisible a half kilometer away.  Bad because once I was inside, I could move about totally invisible.

The stars were brilliant due to lack of atmosphere to absorb their light and I saw thousands of them.  More than you could see on Earth, so many the constellations were drowned in the confusion.  But unless one of the moons was passing overhead, it was too dark for even my enhanced night vision to see well.

I kept close enough to the lamps to enable me to see but far enough away to prevent me being seen and was able to get very close to the buildings that were being built.  Construction was simple and consisted of little more than an internal frame and canvas covering with a wooden floor.  The place looked more like a temporary camp than a real military base.  I snuck into one unguarded building and found a number of small fliers moored to the ground.  These ranged from small one-man scout flyers that resembled a surfboard with a windshield at the front and a small motor and propeller at the rear to larger ones that seemed to be mostly cargo area.  On the scouts, the pilot would lay on the flat deck, clip his harness to the deck rings and hang on as the wind whipped overhead.  I climbed aboard one, grabbed a couple rings with my feet and tail and pretended I was surfing the California beaches with cute beach babes watching.

I took pictures, noted the designs for future reference then left as I had come, silently and carefully.

Another building was the office and had one officer working late.  But my telepathic invisibility allowed me to sneak past him undetected.  I rifled through the papers I found but although Phundahl spoke the same language as did Toonol and all of Barsoom, their written languages were different and so, my long months of learning to be literate were useless here.  So I took photos of whatever I found and wondered how many more I could take before my camera was filled.

Another was the barracks and I glanced inside through a window to find half the men asleep, the other half playing at Jetan which is a 100 square chess game that required a different way of thought as Chess deals with lines of attack but Jetan is concerned with areas of defense. Others were playing Yano which is like golf or croquette or horseshoes or.. well, they toss a small ball into a hole.  You have to play it to understand it but the gambling was fierce.  None of these looked like a crack regiment of Special-Operations soldiers but appeared to be just normal grunts relaxing on their off-duty time.

It was the last and second largest building that told me what was happening.  The place was deserted by men but was filled with cages and terrariums.  One side had dozens of all sizes stacked, all empty, the other side was filled with dozens, each holding some animal of the marsh.  Some were filled with water and contained a fish or other aquatic creature, some with a bug or other insect(?) but most were simple wire cages holding an animal.  Here a silian, there a bird(?), another held a swamp calot with overly broad feet.  One even had a white ape though why one of those would be in the marsh is beyond wonder as these monsters haunt the seabed hills and dead cities of the long-dried sea bottoms.  And there were cases with almost every plant or plant-animal in the marsh.

This wasn't an invasion, but a zoo!  These people were simply collecting biological specimens for some reason.

I now had the information Gan Kanar needed so I took more pictures and snuck out, climbed a tree and began to make my way past the sentries and to freedom.

Once past these, I settled down and waited for daylight for only a fool crosses the Marshes in the dark.  If these were zoo hunters, they'd need to start going out in the dark because more than half the things in the Marsh slept during the day and only came out at night.

So, wrapping my furs around me and grasping limbs with tail and feet, I fell asleep.

The morning sun awoke me so I rolled my furs up and after packing them away, had breakfast and relieved myself from a high branch.  I entertained myself watering an arbok that was seeking prey thirty feet below and following him as he ran to and fro.  Then with bladder empty and a really pissed on and pissed off arbok seeking something to bite, I took off across the trees towards my pick-up point.

I was crossing an open area when a flier passed overhead.  I froze then ducked into the reeds but they turned.  Drat!  They saw me.  So I ran.  In the lighter gravity I could outrun any of them but with this soft ground and their air mobility they soon had headed me off and dropped soldiers around me.  I had no choice but to shift my long-sword to my hip and that was easily done as I simply wrapped my tail around the sheath and held it from falling as I unbuckled both top and bottom at once.  Then I swung it around and buckled it to my hip and drew.

“Surrender, we are five to your one.” Their Padwar said.

“How do you know I am not bait and you should surrender,” I countered.  A few of his men looked around but the Padwar didn't.

“Again, surrender.  What are you?  White skin like a Thern but a tail and… hey, you're Gan Kanar's pet moorouk aren't you?”  A moorouk was a six legged tree-dwelling animal with a prehensile tail.  It was the closest he could come to calling me a monkey.

“I am a noble in his service, if you mean to be more polite,” I suggested.  I wasn't worried about being stabbed in the back for what an Earthling saw as a good idea, the Red Man saw as dishonor.  They'd all attack, but to my face and probably only one or two at a time.  Still, I could feel my tail twitching in the grass from nervousness.

One said, “he'd look good in the zoo.  We should put him in a cage.”  Another offered, “Tur never made anyone like that so it must be an animal.”  Tur was their god for the Phundahls were as religious as the Toonols were atheists.  Me, I grew up in a family where half my relatives were priests and nuns and that tends to pound religion out of your head real fast.

“Settle down,” their leader commanded.  “What are you doing so far from Ardane?  Are you spying on us?”

“Good Grief,” I swore.  “Can't a guy even go for a walk to admire nature without someone accusing him of criminal activity?  Do you think I want to spend my life in one small city in a swamp?  There is an entire world out there that I can't see because I am stuck in Ardane.  What opportunities are out there that I haven't seen yet.  I don't suppose that you are hiring Panthans?”

I was hoping to talk my way out of this mess.

One of them, obviously more religious than the rest insisted, “We don't hire beasts, we put them in cages.”

I looked at him then asked the Padwar, “How do you manage to do anything with idiots like this?”

His friends laughed at this so he turned redder than before and jumped me.  I barely avoided his attack but instead of helping their friend or pulling him off, they stepped back and watched.  The man was good but frankly, I had been playing with a sword for less than six months.  He may have been using one in war for six centuries.  I was outmatched and only my enhanced Earthly strength and speed kept me alive.  Within a minute I was bleeding from a number of wounds which indicated he was playing with me so I got desperate and rushed him.  He couldn't back off fast enough but blocked my thrust until it was too late and he felt my tail wrap around his ankle and pull.

“Foul!” cried one of his friends as I sent him to his back, knocked his blade away and put my sword to his throat.

“Enough!  It is enough he won.  Moorouk, let him live and you may pass in freedom.” The Padwar said.

“My name is Jason Obrien, Lord Innis not moorouk or silian or calot or anything other than my name.” I insisted without removing my blade.

“Fair enough.  Then I repeat, Jason Obrien, if you let him live, there will be peace between us.  Kill him and you face me and your trick won't work a second time.”

I removed my blade and saluted him, “You are a noble man, Padwar.  If you have no other pressing business, it seems that I would not do well seeking service with Phundahl so farewell.”

As I turned to leave, he called, “You may be right but we are not all like Gheeyat here.”

I tried very hard to not shake as I walked away.  The Kris Wars were nothing like this.  If you faced a man there, you did it through a view screen a hundred-thousand kilometers away before you touched a button that destroyed his entire ship.  Or they vaporized you before you knew you were dead.  War was clean and you could pretend that you were playing a game.  This facing your enemy and looking into his eyes as you killed him or he killed you was terrifying.

But I was alive and that was the important thing.

I returned to my pick-up point, or as close as I could to where I thought it was and waited until dark.  Shortly after sunset I saw a flyer heat-glowing in the darkness (infra-red vision was useful) and flashed my pick-up code with my light and as the flier settled nearby, I climbed aboard and returned to Ardane.

Once there I reported to my Jed.  “My Lord, they are simply collecting animals for their zoos.  I don't believe that they intend to invade at all.  Here is what I discovered and will write my report later.”  He took the camera and nodded, “You did well as usual.  I shall consider my next move later.  Now I think we both will benefit from your bath.”  And with that I was dismissed.

I returned to my quarters to find Florina waiting and she almost flung herself into my arms but stopped, “My Lord, you stink!  First a bath, then your reward for your success.  You can tell me all about it as I scrub your back.”  I'm glad they expected slaves to wash their owners, it makes things nicer.

III: The Citadel

I loved the sunsets on Barsoom.  They were the only things I ever saw that were more beautiful than the ones in Arizona.  Irish and English sunsets are poor fare indeed, the skies are always overcast and half the time you don't knew when the sun has set.  The sunsets in Arabia have potential but there is usually nothing there but flat desert and a good sunset needs mountains for contrast.  Toonol, or rather Ardane where I now lived, was a swamp so I had learned to appreciate the trees as a replacement for the mountains.  It's not as good, but still the red dust in the sky produced reds and oranges and even yellows that had to be seen to believed.

We were sitting on the flight deck watching the event, Florina my slave-girl in my arms and our cloak wrapped around us for warmth when the guard interrupted.  “Gan Kanar wishes your attendance,” He said and waited.

“Of course, I shall attend immediately!” I informed the guard as I rose and helped Florina to her feet.  We were near the edge so I wrapped my tail around a carving to steady myself and we returned to the deck where Florina bowed to the guard for a slave must always show considerable respect to any free man.  She then bowed to me and said, “My Lord, I shall return to your rooms and await your orders.”  I nodded, kissed her and left with the guard.

“Lord Innis,” he began for the Jed had ordered after one successful mission that my Irish title be accepted here on Barsoom.  “Why do you treat that slave with such care?  She is just property and you can have others or even more if you wish?”

“Florina suits my needs well.  I have no desire for another.  And we Irish understand your Barsoomian ways of courtesy to women, only I choose to extend these to all women, free or chained.”  Of course he didn't understand for to him she was simply property.  I had offered and wished to free her many times in the past, but Barsoom custom dictated that as a slave, we could be lovers and love each other, but once freed, that part of her life would never be repeated or mentioned.  And I would have to court her again through her parents who would not be happy to see a woman of their house mated with an alien.  So her remaining enslaved as the only way we could be together.  I hated it for I had been a galley slave in Arabia and knew well the lash and the memory of Oliver Cromwell ran deep in my blood.  He had sought the solution to Irish rebellion against the conquering English was to simply sell one of every five Irish as slaves to the New World.  The Americans talk of slavery focusing on black Africans but they forgot that a million Irish were also in their chains.

Still, she had accepted her situation with better grace than I did.

“Have you any idea of what I am to do now?” I asked.  My king saw in me a useful curiosity.  Despite my Jasoomian birth, the Demons who had abducted me as a teen had changed me into something that even the Barsoomian tolerance had difficulty accepting.  Even Florina sometimes would look away rather than see my antennae or cat's eyes.  But those adaptations the Demons had made to enable me to operate their starships also worked well in the Toonol Swamps for I saw little difference between crawling about in the struts of a ship in zero-gravity and climbing the trees of the swamp in .38 gravity.  Branches or struts, my tarsial feet and prehensile could still grasp them easily.

And so I was usually sent to spy out areas where a Red Man would be bogged down in the muck and a flier would be seen.  Plus my ability to see in the dark and the Red Man's inability to detect me telepathically was always useful.

“No,” he answered.  “I am not privy to the Jed's wishes.”  The man was a simple guard and I a noble, of sorts, so of course he would be told only what he needed to know.

I entered the throne room alone as was my custom and waited for the Jed to notice me.  I often practiced walking silently and as no Barsoomian could read a Jasoomian mind, they never knew we were around until we made a noise.  I know it was petty, but my life depended on this man and his good graces so the only thing I had of my own was this.  Gan Kanar had such control I was unable to read even his slightest thought but like all Barsoomians, his telepathic broadcasts allowed me to know he was there as if he were humming out loud.  No Red Man could approach another without being detected by their telepathy and my invisibility in that area made me valuable to him.  With some twenty men and women visiting Barsoom over the centuries, and near a half-dozen of us still alive, many nations had found our Earthly strength and mental invisibility useful.

Eventually he looked up and started as he saw me standing there, well out of sword range but still nearby.  “How long have you stood there?” he demanded.

I bowed to him and replied, “Only a moment, My Lord.  You appeared to be busy with important matters and I did not wish to disturb your thoughts.  How may I serve my Jed?”

He glared but could do little so he explained, “I have a task for you.”  Of course he did.  I made him nervous and he called for me only to show me off to visitors or to send me on some mission that none of his other men could accomplish.  He knew that with my Earthly strength, enhanced by the Demons, my abilities to jump and climb and my telepathic invisibility, were I to take up the trade of the Gorthan Assassin, I could easily enter his or any room and hide in the rafters to kill at my leisure.  So he tolerated my quirks such as my games of being invisible, my desire for the slave Florina and my almost total inability to dance the Dances of Barsoom.

“I am told you are becoming an adequate swordsman though this is due more your strength than skill.  I am also told that you are learning the written languages and customs of Phundahl, Amhor and even far off Helium.  Why?”  He was asking not demanding so I told him the truth though I could easily lie to him.

“My Lord, when my people were conquered by the English, our enemies spoke only their own language and all were illiterate.  My people spoke our native Gaelic and could read and write it easily and we found it tactically advantageous to know the spoken and written languages of our enemies.  We could easily read their dispatches and listen to their plans but they could not do the same for us.  I serve you in a like manner.  I study Phundahl to serve you against your enemies and I study Amhorian for some day I will return my slave to her family.  And as for Helium, they seem to be very successful in their conquests.  It would be useful to know theirs as well in case their eyes are cast in this direction.”

He accepted my explanation with a grunt and motioned me to the table upon which was a map of the Toonolian Marshes.  The Marshes stretch some 1800 miles east to west by 600 miles north to south and were the remainder of a huge canyon so large that the cliffs were over the horizon.  Toonol was to the eastern side and Phundahl to the west.  A small river drained off excess water some 200 miles east of that city and hills and mountains protected and isolated Phundahl in the west.  Within the Marshes were a number of cities like Ardane, subject to either Toonol or Phundahl with a few independent cities in the middle and others near the edges of the marsh in the desert.  There was also an arc of forts that stretched roughly north to south-south-east, each numbered in no particular order.

Gan Kanar pointed to one, #16 that was at the edge of the Marsh in the north.  “This is one of the forts that protect the Empire from Phundahl.  I am charged with these six but this one, number sixteen, has failed to communicate.  When I sent reinforcements, they report the fort deserted, then a month later, they had vanished also.  I am unwilling to sacrifice more lives until I know what has happened so you and your slave will go there and seek answers.”

“Why Florina?” I asked.  “Is that not dangerous?”

“First of all, she is only a slave so if she dies, no loss to me.  Second two eyes can see more than one, especially of one is a slave-girl who may wander unnoticed.  And third, there is no evidence of violence. No blood, no bodies, simply as if the soldiers had walked into the marsh or desert to vanish.  You leave before sunrise.”  And with that I was dismissed.

I thought about this when I returned to my rooms.  “He wants you to go with me.  I wonder why.”  I said.

She sat in my lap and let me play with her hair which she had found relaxed me when I was stressed.  “Gan Kanar is not a fool.  He rarely speaks all that he knows or fully reveals his plans. Nor is he known for wasting resources and he knows that if something happens to me, you will take revenge or leave so it must not be as dangerous as you think.  We should take our own food and water in case of poison or contamination.”  She then rose from my lap and walked away to pack.

I enjoyed the sight of her as she walked.  I usually found Florina's body as uncomfortable as she found mine.  I preferred my women to be built like a woman and Red Woman, being egg-bearers, had no need for breasts other than to attract a man so hers were far smaller than I liked.  That and her thin pubic hair gave her the body of a girl younger than I liked.  But her face was that of a mature woman, beautiful to extreme and her long, wavy black hair was terribly exciting.  Especially as I watched her walk away, her hips and hair swinging with her movements.  But mostly, I valued her mind and advice.  She saw things I was too new to this world to understand and I found that my life worked easier if I listened to her.  Even were we not intimate, I would treasure her for her mind and advice.

We left before dawn as ordered, me huddled behind the windscreen of my flier, wrapped in furs and Florina behind commenting on the crispness of the day.  Her Barsoomian body handled the cold far easier than my own and I would freeze in temperatures that she could walk around in naked.

The fort itself was small, some 500 feet along each of its four walls, walls that were twenty feet high and at each corner was a thirty foot round tower.  On one side was the traditional round gate, a concession to the ancient past though this gate parted in the middle and swung outwards instead of rolling aside.  Instead of Earthly crenels and merlons, the walls were flat and had loopholes through which to shoot.  We landed without challenge and I observed at one corner a paddock for thoats including the stables and feed bins.  The other three corners and walls had rooms against those walls whose roofs could provide a place for the defenders to stand while on watch or fighting.  The entire center was a list or parade ground or landing field so we set down there.

“No one,” my lover commented.  She refused to allow me to call her ‘my princess’ for that was a term of endearment reserved to those who were engaged and our status prevented such.

“Where is the artillery?” I asked, my military mind immediately noticing that the towers had no cannons which should be common here.  I leapt over the side and found a ring to which I tied our flier then after ensuring that my weapons were loose and ready, I sauntered over to the Dwar's office.  I knocked, not really expecting any answer but entering a Barsoomian officer's office unexpectedly is asking for an explosive bullet in your chest.

The office was empty as was his personal sleeping area behind.  I left the office and began a quick look around the camp, glancing into each room then moving on, Florina watching the entire time from the flier.  I was about three quarters around when I saw movement in the paddock.  Not a thoat, a woman and an unusual one at that.  Barsoomian Red Men have a coppery color to their skin and are universally black haired.  This woman was white skinned with blonde hair and she backed against the wall and stared at me, fear in her eyes.

“Florina!” I called.  “Come here please! And hurry!”

It was only a moment before she arrived and froze at the sight.  The woman had breasts!  Not the small A or B-cup of the normal Barsoomian woman but something larger and fuller that would need a bra on Earth but firmed up nicely under the lighter gravity of Mars.  Instead of the usual leather straps to form a harness, she wore a light chain around her waist that was held up only by her hips which were broad and shapely.  She had a piece of pink silk about eight inches wide that hung almost to her knees in front, then slipped over the chain, ran between her legs to afford modesty then I assumed repeated the design in back.  The effect was a sort of breech-cloth that the Red Indians of America wore, only much more attractive and leaving her legs and hips bare.  She also wore a pink robe and hood that fell to her ankles and covered her back and with sleeves to hold her arms.  It would have covered her body had she tied it closed, but the thing was open and resembled more a cape than anything else and as sheer as it was, the gown hid nothing.

She also had a bandage attached to her upper right thigh and another over her heart which was much lower and more centered than a human heart so the bandage was centered beneath and between her breasts as if someone had tried to stab her through that organ.  She also wore the usual Red Woman's taste in lots of jewelry from bracelets to necklaces to rings from every limb.  And she was barefoot, another unusual fashion.

“I mean you no harm,” I said, keeping my hands away from my weapons.

She replied in a language I couldn't understand and as every Barsoomian speaks the same tongue, I assumed that she was an alien visitor as was I.  So I tried Gaelic, then English, Japanese, Arabic and the Spanglic the Mon spoke in Demon Space to no avail.  She replied in her tongue again so I told Florina, “Keep watch with her while I finish my search.”  Then I left them together and finished my cursory search to reveal no one else.

I called Florina, “Bring her to the Dwar's office and we'll see what we can learn.”

My lover arrived with the girl and said to me, “I think she is a Holy Thern.  They are pale-skinned as are you and have yellow hair and are supposed to speak another language.  But they live in the Valley Dor so what would one be doing here?”

I didn't know but I set three glasses on the desk and poured wine into each.  The blonde took hers and drank it in one gulp then held it out for more.  This glass she drank slower and was sipping her third with no effects of drunkenness as we two were still drinking our first.  I found some sealed field rations and she ate through those as if she were starving.  “A Thern, here, starving and alone and unable to speak our language.  This is a mystery indeed.”

Noticing that her bandages were dirty, Florina brought a medical kit from a cabinet she had been searching and offered to change her dressings.  The woman ignored her completely as if she didn't exist so my slave pushed the kit to me. I asked, “Lady, your dressings need change, please allow me to assist if you won't allow my slave to help you.”  She immediately covered the wounds with her hands and backed away.  When I motioned the kit, she took it, turned away from us and changed her own dressings, not allowing us to see her wounds.

Well, people have strange customs so I accepted this and said, “I want to do a more careful search so please find her a place to rest and begin teaching her our language as you did me.”

My slave tried to motion the woman to follow her but received a look as if she were thoat dung so Florina backed away, bowed very low and apologized to her.  The woman ignored her totally and instead followed me as I left.  I tried to explain that she should follow Florina but she refused to consider such a thing and spoke in her own speech then waited for me to lead.  As I did so, she followed and I spoke to Florina, “I guess she won't go with you so please unload the flier and we'll take the Dwar's quarters since they are the most comfortable-looking.”

She gave me a dirty look and whispered in my ear, “Strange that she was starving and dirty here where the food, water and medical supplies were so easy to find.” But she did as I said and so I continued my explorations, this time more carefully, examining every room.  I knew that the fortress walls would be solid and this close to the Marshes the ground a few feet below would be too wet to dig so there would be no secret passages or pits.  The walkway around the wall was the roof to these rooms so there was no attic or crawl space either.  What I saw would be what was there.  What I really sought was some clue as to where the two garrisons had gone and why.

There were ghost ships on Earth that had been deserted by their crews and sometimes entire villages had vanished, one in Ireland had been taken by the fairies for some transgression or so they said but here?  The barracks were deserted, their best weapons and harness gone but the extra gear remaining in place.  Silks and furs lay neatly on their beds, their personal belongings undisturbed, those of the first garrison packed away.  I found no trace of blood, no sign of struggle, no bullet holes or sword nicks in wall or furniture.  It was as if the Dwar had told everyone to prepare for a short patrol, rode out and never returned.  The only sign of violence was the two bandages on the blonde woman who followed me every place I searched, never being more than a meter away from me.  Her scent and appearance was intoxicating and ….

I knew I was missing something but I couldn't see what.  Food was in abundance in the galley.  The well was clean, the water-purifier was working and there was more clean water in this fortress than in many cities.  Swords and daggers hung from the walls or were stored away.  Personal belongings and even the oval coins they used for money remained.  Just no people and no thoats or fliers.

We were sitting for lunch when Florina whispered to me, “Will you please stop staring at her chest.  I know they are obscenely huge and I don't see how she walks with them but your constant looks make me feel so inadequate.”

“She looks normal by my world's standards with many a woman far larger.”

“And I suppose you find her pale skin and yellow hair to your liking also?” she said.

“She is the ideal of beauty on my world.” I said.  Florina then slammed the tray she was holding on the table and stalked out.  Only then did I realize what stupidity I had done.  My mother once told me, “Jason, when your wife asks you if she looks fat, lie!  If she asks if you look at other women, lie.  If she asks if you slept with someone else, lie!  Go to your grave with a lie on your lips because that will be preferable to the misery your wife will cause you for telling the truth.”  Florina was beautiful but by Earth's standards, she was flat-chested and I missed breasts.  I started to rise to apologize to her but the blonde took my arm, smiled and motioned for me to sit.  She chattered away in her language, not caring that I couldn't understand her words but more comfortable now that we were alone.

I tried to teach her some words but she ignored my efforts completely as if they were unimportant so we finished the meal with her completely comfortable with my staring at her.  And for the first time on this planet, I found someone who accepted my alien appearance as natural.  She looked at me as if I were a normal man, not an alien freak.  When done eating, I took her to a guest room and indicated that she was to sleep there and then I returned to the wall where I used the powerful Barsoomian field glasses to scan the outside areas seeking clues to my next search.  Still nothing.  There was a fire zone cleared of all but moss and in the distance to the south were where the Marshes begin.  All around the fort, at a safe distance, I saw small copses of mantilla and other flora but none large enough to hide more than a single man.  On Earth any vegetation within rifle range would be bulldozed for security but here, with a radium rifle's effective range being far greater than any earthly weapon, the Red Men considered vegetation more important than a sniper's cover.

I left the fort and searched for thoat tracks to indicate the direction the garrison had gone but found nothing in the moss.  Thoats are toed like camels and so leave no tracks as would a horse.  I searched the surrounding area for hours and saw nothing save an occasional silian seeking prey far from the waters of the marsh and some ancient walls that had been uncovered by recent digging.  Unlike the dead cities that dot the planet, these were in ruin and were little more than a part of a wall and a square hole, lined with stone that could have been anything from a grave to a storage room to an entrance to the pits.

I returned to the fort just before sunset and found the blonde awaiting me at the gate but Florina nowhere to be found.  In panic I ran inside and called her name out.  She ran from the galley crying, “What's wrong?”  then saw the blonde and immediately her mood turned.  “I can see all is well with you so I shall return to my duties scrubbing pans for my master and his guest.”  Then she turned and walked away swinging her hips in an exaggerated motion.  I had no idea of what to do until the blonde took my arm and led me to the office where she bade me sit and helped me remove my weapons which she hung on the wall.  Somehow her touch inflamed my senses and I fear I might have taken advantage of her had Florina not entered just then with dinner.

My slave looked at me, then at the blonde, then set the food down, bowed to us both and left without a word.  I found this unusual but I was still getting used to Barsoomian customs and perhaps there was something about not eating in the presence of a Thern I didn't know.  We had never talked about religion and the people of Toonol are atheists which I thought was the only reason they were at war with Phundahl which worshipped Tur.  I was more agnostic and less religious coming from a Catholic family that gave half its income and half its children to the Church and killed the English more because they were Protestant than because of their nationality.  So I didn't know if Florina followed some religion from Amhor that I didn't know about for normally, when in public, she would stand behind me to serve me as I needed.  I knew that the Therns used to be looked upon as Gods but that was some two hundred years ago.

Drat!  Florina was 245 years old.  She had spent the first 45 years of her life worshipping the Therns.  And even after John Carter proved the falsehood of their religion, many still refused to accept and continued as they had for a million years.  The Blonde was, to Florina, as if the Pope would visit my homeland or even England.  No wonder she was acting so strangely.  She, a slave, felt herself inadequate to be in the presence of such an important person.

We ate in as strange a conversation as I can remember.  The Blonde chatted in her own language, not caring that I was ignorant of her words.  I talked about my day and my observations expecting Florina to make some sense of them but all I could do was talk to someone who, beautiful as she was, left the conversation totally empty as if I had eaten a meal of sand.  Not distasteful, just full but somehow still hungry.  The woman was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and she accepted me as I was and gave me fantasies I didn't understand but still I wished Florina had been here to listen to me talk and offer ideas.

I was tired after my day so I escorted the blonde to her room and returned to mine where I found Florina making my bed and arranging our furs and silks for the night.  I reached for her but she pushed me away, “Tonight I need to sleep alone.”

“Have you been crying?” I asked.  “Your eyes are red and puffy.”

“It's the dust.” She explained.  “Goodnight.  I shall see you in the morning,” and she ran from my room without another word.  I had no idea of what to do so removed the remainder of my harness, attended to my toilet and crawled into bed to fall asleep immediately.

It was totally dark outside and inside with both moons below the horizon when she came to me.  I felt her lips caress my cheek, her tongue in my ear and, excited I ran my hand up her side to cup a handful of breast.  I felt her nipple harden under my touch then,….

I jumped from the bed and unhooded the radium lamp.  It wasn't Florina but the blonde woman, naked save the bandages.  She smiled and entered my bed.  It was the fullness of her breast that gave her away for Florina had little to obstruct my wandering hands.  “What are you doing here?” I demanded.  In my entire life I had been with but three women and wasn't used to this behaviour in a female.

She chatted away, making it clear that she wished to stay with me but I stammered, “I'd like to but.  I care for another.  I really can't do this. You have to go now.  Florina..”  I held my furs around myself and avoided her touch as I opened my door and motioned her outside.  She picked up her gauze outfit and then, caressing my cheek with her hand, left.  I saw Florina across the way and she immediately ran inside and slammed the door to her room.  I don't understand women and I wished that either the doors had bolts on them or that it had been Florina there tonight.

I shoved a chair against the door and returned to bed, trying to think but still feeling her breast under my hand.  It was a long sleepless night.

I awoke late with a knock at my door.  I held some furs before me and peeked out to find my lover outside holding a tray of breakfast so I removed the chair and opened the door for her to enter.  The dust must have been very thick because she looked as if she had been crying all night. Strange, I wasn't sneezing as much as I normally do but sometimes people react differently.

She set the meal on the desk as I dressed and sat then I said, “Last night…”  She interrupted me with fingers over my mouth, “My Lord, my master, I am your slave to serve you in any way you wish.  I cannot marry you or be with you in public so, … please be silent and let me finish while I can.  Last night was your right.  I have nothing to say about how you live.  When you wish me, call and I will serve you but if you wish the Holy Thern, then please care not for my thoughts.”  She never looked into my eyes the entire time.

“But my love, I don't want…” she shussed me again.  “Please my master, let us not speak of this.  Just do as you will.”

Women!  I took a bite and said, “I don't think she is a Thern.  Didn't I read somewhere that Therns are bald?  Then shouldn't she be wearing a wig?  Last night before I made her leave, she was naked and unless Therns wear very well-made wigs down there and her wigs are glued on, her hair is natural.  She moves like a Barsoomian so she isn't from Jasoom or any other larger world but she's built like a Jasoomian.  So who is she and why is she here?  Why doesn't she speak your language? Why is she built like a human?  How did she get wounded and why won't her wounds heal despite your medical ointments?  I'm beginning to wonder if her being here is related to the missing garrison.”

Florina looked at me and asked, “You don't want her?”

“I thought I did until I threw her out of my room last night.  In the dark I thought she was you but then I knew she wasn't and stopped.  But what about my questions?”  I asked until she threw herself into my arms, kissing me as she undid my harness.  “I thought you and she…. But you didn't… you do love me…”  It was a while before I could convince her to stop kissing me long enough to talk to me and I don't think she heard me say, “How could you think that of me?” through her cries.

We lay there on the floor, her kissing my ears and neck when the blonde walked in and saw us.  Honestly, I don't know if she had just entered or saw the entire incident but when she saw me looking at her, she snarled, turned and left.  Florina turned long enough to see her leave and smiled.  “My loving master, you must get dressed for the day.  We still have a mystery to solve.” And she pulled herself off of me and instead of fetching cleaning cloths, handed me my harness saying, “I think you should smell like me today.”

As I was dressing she asked, “Where is your revolver?  I can find your swords and knife but your holster is empty.”

“My revolver?  That's what I've been missing!  There are no firearms here.  The cannon are missing from the towers and there are blades all over but no firearms.  The only person who has been here is you and me and her.  Check the flier!” I ordered.

I did another search of my room when I heard Florina scream.  I quickly ran outside with drawn steel and saw the blonde easily holding her by the arm with one hand.  Florina's fingers were entangled in her blonde tresses but it was clear that the hair was natural and would not come off.  Florina was bleeding from her nose where she had been struck and the blonde lifted her easily and licked the blood from Florina's face.  In the struggle the bandages had fallen away from the blonde and I saw a sword wound under her breast as if she had been stabbed to death.  Her thigh had a circle and X carved into it, still bleeding as was her breast wound, both of which she ignored.  She motioned to me and called for me ignoring my drawn sword when I saw Florina pull her dagger and drive it into the woman's belly.

The woman flung my slave across the field with a strength that only an Earthman would have then she pulled the knife from her belly as if she were flicking some dirt away.  The wound healed instantly as she dropped the knife and came to me, still beckoning to me, still naked save her open robe.  The closer she came, the more I wanted her and I knew that if she touched me, I'd be powerless to resist so I did what I could, I cried, “Flier” to Florina and backed away to give my love a chance to escape.  Then I reached for my revolver.  It was still missing.  Obviously, this woman was immune to steel but radium bullets scared her so she had removed them all, revealing herself only when she was safe from harm.

I backed away from her slowly then turned and leapt for the roof, a simple feat for my earthly muscles but she would have to move to the ramps to follow.  She didn't, she leapt to the roof with the same strength that I possessed.  I immediately turned and jumped the wall, the twenty foot drop to the outside meaning little to my earthly muscles.  Then I ran away taking bounds of easily fifteen to twenty feet at a time.  Stupidly, I turned to look back and tripped.  She was running after me faster than I could imagine, her breasts bouncing and hair flowing behind as she approached until a rope struck me in the head.  “Grab it you fool!” I heard Florina call and as I did so, she rose the flier high into the sky with me dangling below.

Climbing the mooring rope was easy when you have thumbs on either side of your hand, thumbs on your feet and a prehensile tail and within a moment I was over the side next to my love whose face I covered with kisses.

When we finally slowed and turned, we saw the woman walking back to the fort.  “Is the rifle still here?” I asked.

“No, gone with all the ammunition.  She was very careful about that.  Orovars are quite intelligent and plan well.”

“Orovars?” I asked.  “They vanished 400,000 years ago.  I know you are a long-lived race but even that's stretching it a bit.”

“She's not alive.  She's a corphal, an evil spirit who took the body of the lowest of criminals.  That sign carved into her thigh shows what she is. It was carved there just before the Jeddak killed her for only a Jed or Jeddak can safely kill a corphal.  That body must have been buried there under or near the fort for a half million years.  The ancients had ways of preserving the dead we can only imagine.  Then the corphal awoke when they dug her up and using her female wiles, had the men of the garrison kill each other.  She then ate the bodies down to the smallest drop of blood.”  Florina explained.  “She wanted you too and had you not repulsed her, you'd be in her belly also.  It was only fear of your radium revolver that kept her docile.”

“How did you figure this out?” I asked.

“Not everyone gave up the Religion of Issus after John Carter returned from Dor.  Some of us believed he made up that story to avoid being killed as a heretic.  Corphals are a big part of our faith and we have many stories of them.  When I realized that she wasn't bald, or an alien like you, I listened very carefully to her speech and recognized many words, changed over time.  I knew then she was an Orovar and the only thing she could be was a corphal.  Seeing the carving on her leg proved it.” She explained.  “She attacked me as I pulled the bandage off.”

“Are you certain that only a Jeddak can kill her?  She was afraid of the rifles.”  I asked.

“So the stories say.”

“Land me in the fort.” I commanded.  “This is NOT a request but an order from a master to his slave!”  I added as she hesitated.

Once inside she approached me, inviting, desirable.  I drew my long-sword and called to her, “I am Jason Obrien, Jed of Innis.  My grandfather was Jeddak of Connacht, my great grandfather was Jeddak of Eire. I have the blood of Kings flowing through my veins and this blood condemns you to DEATH!” and I thrust my blade through her heart, striking the same scar as did her first executioner.  Then as she screamed and fell to her knees, grasping my sword and trying to pull it free.   I wrapped my tail around her arms to prevent that and drawing my short-sword and pulling her hair with my free hand, I cut with all my strength.  Her head came free and I flung the thing as far over the wall as I could.  Her body fell to the ground and a part of me noticed that there was very little blood soaking INTO the ground from her severed neck.

Florina landed the flier and took my hand as we watched her age into dust until naught was left but my steel on the ground.

“You are a Jeddak?” she asked.

“No, but my ancestors are and I am in line for the Throne of Ireland.”  I took her to my room and added, “Of course half the island can say that and you'd have to kill off a million people closer to me before I could ascend the throne but she didn't know that.  It's a matter of conviction.  Come, my love, I'd like to pack up and return home today.  Our bed is more comfortable than this one and I need a bath.”

IV: Who watches the spies?

Florina was watching me pump iron.  I hated to do this but after more than a year on Barsoom, the lighter Martian gravity was robbing my bones of calcium at an alarming rate.  And despite the calcium pills I took daily, if I didn't overstress myself regularly, I'd end up as weak and frail as any Red Man.  On Barsoom, that wouldn't be much of a problem but it would mean that I'd be stuck here forever, never returning to Earth for fear the increased gravity would kill me instantly.

When I was a fat kid, my father tried to make a man of me by forcing me to pump iron but that was a useless endeavor and, again, he was disappointed in his only son.  For a former cowboy who had joined the Marines at fifteen during World War II, I can see why he thought so little of me.  Now, ten years later, I am a soldier-spy on another planet and no longer human.  I fought in wars that made the worst Earth did look like a mud-wrestling match and I couldn't even say, “Dad, I'm a soldier now, can't you be proud of me finally?” because he had died a century and a half ago.  Doesn't life just kick you in the teeth sometimes?

“My Lord, you push yourself too much.  You should be kinder to yourself,” my slave commented.  She always worried about me and unlike most other master-slave relationships, I saw in her more a friend and lover than property.

I hated owning Florina.  I recall talking to one drop-dead gorgeous woman from Texas once.  She was Daughters of the Confederacy, Daughters of Texas, Daughters of the American Revolution and her family had been in America long before there had been an America and I was an Irish immigrant desperate for even her smile.  She told me that black people were better off as slaves and enjoyed the experience.  I told her that when Henry got tired of we Irish fighting British rule, he turned the country over to Cromwell who solved the ‘Irish problem’ by sending wagons through the streets and grabbing any Irish they could, tossing them into a cage then putting that cage onto a boat to sell the Irish to America as slaves.  Mothers and children simply vanished to leave their children starving because they had been taken and sold as slaves to her ancestors.  She didn't believe me because to her only black people were slaves but to us, more than 20% of Ireland ended up sold in chains to America.

And now I was one of those hated owners of humanity.

“It's the only way we can be together,” she said for the hundredth time.  “We are a country ruled by custom.  Were I free, my family would forbid us to marry and they would destroy any egg I laid for fear the hatchling would have a…” she trailed off so I finished it for her, “A tail.   I know, this is the best decision we could make but still, I can't help but think that my uncle said that the path to damnation begins with s single step and I wonder if this is that step.”

She pulled me up and held me, “My Loving master, on your world any Barsoomian Red Woman would be stoned and imprisoned for wearing what we see as modest attire.  Our ways are different and as you said once, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’ so here, try to be as a Red Man.  Own me and love me and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

“My dear,” I sighed, “But I'm not a Red man.”

“Neither are you any longer a Jasoomian, but you wear the harness of a Red Man, you live in a Red Man's city and you serve a Red Jed so is it so hard to love me as a Red Man?”  She kissed me then and as always, the argument ended for neither of us had been able to solve this problem.  How could I, an altered human from Earth be with a free Red Woman?  I went back to my pumping iron.  So long as my bones ached, I needed to do this.

I had grasped the bar with my tarsial feet and was doing leg lifts when I was summoned to my king.

Entering, I approached the throne, bowed and greeted him as usual, “Hail Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane, Master of the Northern Toonolian Marshes…” and so on.  I didn't even think of the words anymore, I had said them so often.

Normally he bade me to rise and approach quickly, this time he kept me there longer and that began to worry me.  Finally he said ‘rise’ and when I approached he simply stared.  He had seen me a half-hundred times over the past year and aside from the first when he examined me in detail, he had ignored my anatomical additions.  This time I could see him staring at my pointed ears, my eye slits and antennae then down to my feet and tail and hands.  The Barsoomian harness leaves little to the imagination being little more than a g-string with a lot of belts to hold my weapons and gear so I had a lot of skin showing.

Finally, “Know you of Ras Thavas, the Surgeon?”

“I do, Majesty.  He lives in a fortress near Toonol doing his medical practice.”  He was more like a mad scientist than a surgeon.

“Recently, he has been robbed.  Papers, experiments and occasionally a slave.  Nothing of any military use but irritating anyway.  He has been unable to find the criminal and sent word to the Jeddak for help.  My Jeddak has heard of you and has directed me to send you to the Tower of Ras Thavas so find this thief and see why.  You may be gone for some time so take your belongings and slave and leave immediately.”  He then turned away and ignored me so I left.

“Pack everything, we are moving to the Tower of Ras Thavas for awhile.” I said to Florina.

“Ras Thavas!  The man is insane.  He does things that even those Demons who changed you wouldn't do.  We should run away this time My Lord.”

Ras Thavas was a medical genius but also a bit unhinged. He was well over a thousand years old and had long ago perfected Brain transplants though his efforts at cloning people was a disaster.  He was obsessed with experimentation and would have been at home in an old B-movie with lightening and torch-bearing peasants though Ras Thavas would probably create his own hunch-backed assistant.  I would have to sleep with a barred door again around him.  “I'll consider your advice,” I told her as we packed.

She left to return with a number of male slaves to carry my gear to the roof where my flier was stored.  It was a gift from the Jed for one of my other missions and he had never taken it back.  I had no ill will against Gan Kanar who had treated me very well.  Compared to my former owners in Iraq or the Demons, Gan Kanar was a model employer, giving me title, comfortable apartments, weapons, an aircraft, Florina and a decent pay for my services.  The fact that he habitually sent me into danger with no back-up or support was nothing that he didn't do to any of his other warriors.  So I didn't like the idea of deserting the man.  I'd look this over and if Ras Thavas had designs on me, I'd deal with that later.

My flyer was small but had a cabin which was barely large enough for a bunk and some supplies.  Fortunately, I didn't own much and Florina wasn't allowed to own anything (she kept my gifts to her in a box under my bed) so what I had was stored on the deck of the cabin.  I just hoped I wouldn't have to sleep outside.   I had made a few air tanks and a pump which I had mounted to the flier for when I needed to fly high for Florina could breathe comfortably on the top of Mount Everest, I needed help breathing if we topped a tall building.  But still I preferred to fly low.  It scared Florina to see the trees passing beneath at our speed but I felt better breathing and risking a collision though I was much higher than it looked.

It took a couple of hours to reach Toonol, time enough to join the Mile-High club only I couldn't get that high without suffocating so we sat and talked instead.  Once at Toonol, I adjusted our course to bypass the city and seek the Tower which was southeast of the city and within a few more minutes, we saw the place in the distance.  Ras Thavas had certainly improved and expanded the place as I saw a small town surrounding the actual fortress.

I immediately slowed for any aircraft approaching a city on Barsoom would have artillery trained on it.  Then a small flier approached and hailed us, “What is your business in Thavas City?” the padwar called.

“I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, sent by Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane to help Ras Thavas find his thief.” I replied.  They came close enough for the fliers to almost touch then he recognized my features and color and directed me to the tower.  Unlike all other cities, hangers for fliers here were on the ground for though Ras Thavas had many enemies, there were but few who would stage a military invasion this close to Toonol and so he had no need for high walls and could build outward.

I circled then landed in an open space and as I exited the flier, a guard approached and looked over my papers and orders.  He then ordered slaves to carry my belongings and led me to my apartment which was no different from my original ones in Ardane.   I had heard that Ras Thavas treated nobles like commoners and commoners like slaves.  He got away with that attitude only because his skills were so valued he could do almost anything he wished.

I settled in and after directing Florina to make us as comfortable as possible, I left to speak to the Mastermind of Mars.

Ras Thavas was said to be over a thousand years old, some said he was deathless.  He was said to have nothing but contempt for all ranks and refused to bow to even the Jeddak, treating all with disdain.  A man like that had power and wasn't afraid to use it so what I saw was not what I expected.  Somehow I expected to see a wizened old man on a throne surrounded by young beauties.  Instead I was taken to a study cluttered with books, papers and jars with various small animals and human organs.  The Mastermind, himself, was sitting with his back to me making notes and never looked up as I was introduced.

I waited for a moment to be noticed for we were now alone then I spoke, “Ras Thavis, I am Jason Obrien.  I was sent her to help you find your thief.  Is there anything you can tell me that would help?”

“Yamdor will tell you what you need to know.”

“As you wish Ras Thavas,” I said and turned to leave.

“Wait!” he commanded.  “You don't sound like a… By Issis, you aren't a Red Man after all.  I forgot that Gan Kanar had an alien for a spy.  Come closer.”

I had a bad feeling about this as I turned.  The man facing me was no ancient but a warrior with a perfect body and looking to be about my age of 25 or so.  But with Red Men, that could mean he was 50 or 800.  I remembered stories that as Ras Thavas aged or was injured, he would transplant his brain into a new body.  Obviously the stories were true.

He muttered as he examined me, poking and prodding, “basically human, internal organs are mostly Jasoomian, interesting variations,” then he commanded, “Come with me!” and left the room without looking back.  Yamdor, his assistant joined us and we visited a laboratory where Ras Thavas bade me sit as he examined my hand in detail, then my tail, ears, eyes and antennae, all the while muttering as Yamdor took notes.

“You are definitely Jasoomian.  Your internal organs are the same as John Carter and Vad Varo and the other Jasoomians I have examined.  But someone changed you, made you better.  Their techniques were amazing.  I see no scar tissue at all.  It's as if you were hatched this way.  I'd love to…”  I jumped from the table with hand on revolver and said, “Ras Thavas, I am here to seek your thief, not be vivisected in the name of science.”

“Thief, bah! A few trinkets when compared to what I can learn from you.” He said as I moved to keep my back to a wall and both in sight.

“Ask what you will but the hand that touches me falls to the floor.” I insisted.  I was getting desperate now and wished that I had listened to Florina.  Images of every mad-scientist movie I ever saw began to have meaning about now.  I used to laugh at how stupid the heroes were to enter that castle and I did exactly the same thing.

Ras Thavas then motioned and Yamdor stood back and relaxed.  “Very well, I suppose I must be satisfied with this.  How did you become as you are?”

“About four years ago I was a normal Jasoomian when a ship landed and I was taken by an alien race called Demons.  The seemed to have a habit of abducting people and experimenting on them to see if they would be useful.  Me, they decided to turn into a slave-worker for their ships.  So they changed my feet to allow me to grasp projections in zero-gravity, added a tail as a third hand, gave me vision to see in the dark and so on.  Every time I fell asleep, they took me and did something so you can understand that I am somewhat leery of you, considering your reputation.” I explained, my hand still on my revolver.

Ras Thavas stared as if he were looking completely through me, which it happened he was, and said, “Very well, I promised John Carter that I'd work to make the lives of people easier and better so consider this a promise, speak to me daily about yourself and these Demons and you will be unharmed by me.”

“And this safety extends to all your people so I won't have to worry that someone will open me up under your direction?”

He laughed, “You are a cautious one. And more than a bit paranoid.  But yes, I agree.  You may remain here in safety and leave safely whenever you wish.  Now about these Demons.  Where may I find them?”

“You don't want to.  You may think you do but they come when they wish and leave the same way.  To a Demon the Swarm is the only thing that matters and they gladly sacrifice individuals to save the Swarm.  They see us the same way, as individuals to be sacrificed to save the Swarm.”

Ras Thavas thought and said, “A fascinating race with many good qualities.  I should like to meet with them someday.”    Well, Ras Thavas never went to sleep normal then woke up with a tail stuck onto his ass.  It took me weeks to learn how to sit with the thing.  I could see him thinking and planning so I excused myself and asked to meet with Yamdor later to discuss my real mission.

As soon as I was in my room, I locked the door. And checked the locks. “My Lord?” Florina showed real concern.

“I feel like I'm having flashbacks. You were right. Ras Thavas has designs on me. What a twist, usually the mad scientist wants the beautiful woman for his experiments. But he promised us safety so we may be able to trust him for awhile. What did you learn from the other slaves?”

“He is as insane as I thought. He promised John Carter that he'd work for the betterment of mankind but defines that in his own way. This city is a medical school but he keeps his greatest secrets to himself. He also allows anyone to live here without question and because of that they are loyal to him alone.”

“And the missing items?”

“They have been noticed for weeks. Mostly papers and records then medical specimens and now people.”

“Is there any pattern to all this?”

“I don't know, My Lord. Slaves are willing to talk to other slaves but they cannot say what they do not know.”

I removed my weapons belts and hung them on the wall then sat on my bed and patted my lap. Florins fell into it and wrapped her arms around me so I could kiss her. “My dear, you make my job so much easier. We do as usual. You question the slaves and draw them out for no free man notices a slave or cares what they see. I will do the same to the rest and we compare observations.” She was nuzzling my neck by this time and whispered into my ear as she bit my lobes, “Have you any theories?”

“None yet.” Then I lost track of what I was about to say.

Later, much later I buckled my weapons to my hips and sought Yamdor to ask about the crimes. He was busy doing something medical so talked as he worked.

“How long have these crimes been happening?” I asked.

“I don't know. Ras Thavas is always putting things down and moving onto another project. We assumed that he simply misplaced them again. We first became aware less than a month ago. Last week we asked for help from the Jeddak and you were sent.”

“Is there a pattern? Such as where things were stolen, what time of the day or night, what specific objects or value?”

“No. We never notice anything is missing until we need it and it is anything of a medical nature. Wait, I made a list and noticed that there was a large number of cloning notes missing. Ras Thavas tried to clone people about a hundred years ago but that was a disaster and the navy of Helium had to burn the city of Morbius and a lot of marsh to stop the result. He also tried to clone Malagors as a cheap means to carry his clones into battle. That was more successful as he worked on their eggs to produce multiple hatchings but the young are so small and weak they required special care to survive. Recently he has returned to that idea and I noticed that much of his research notes and specimens are missing. Plus, two of the people he tried to clone are missing too. At first I thought they had run away but now I wonder if they were stolen.”

I noticed that despite Yamdor’s appearance of work, he was watching me carefully. “Yamdor, did Ras Thavas tell you to spy on me?”

“Yes.” I suppose he wasn't ordered to lie about it. “Now that you are here, Ras Thavas is thinking about improving the Red Man body. He tried grafting animal and human parts in the past but found that unsuccessful, now he is wondering if there is a way to improve the race by modifications such as your Demons did to you.”

I was getting nervous again. “I remind you that by his own words, I am safe until I leave.”

“So long as you speak to him daily,” he replied. I hate lawyers.

“Will you please show me where you think the missing items and people were?”

For the next zode or so he showed me around, explaining where he believed the items were and I saw no pattern. If I were a thief, which I am not (I was a pirate and treasure hunter and terrorist but not a thief) I would have been hard pressed to steal from some of these locations. How could someone steal a vat the size of a bucket in broad daylight from a busy laboratory in broad daylight and smuggle it outside unseen? An inside job? But the people at every crime were different and none had vanished afterwards. They needed a detective here, not a spy.

Finally it got dark and I visited the dining area where I had my usual bland meal and vitamins for a lot of the Barsoomian foods didn't agree with me at all. I looked over my notes and saw no real pattern other than Yamdor was probably right. Someone was interested in cloning. The Demons had done that to the first humans abducted shortly after the Norman conquest. The original abductees were too few in number, so they flushed egg and sperm and created hundreds of babies with scrambled DNA to be raised by the humans they had taken. It prevented extinction in a race that was too limited in genetic material. The Kris had refused this as ‘unholy’ so by the time the Kris wars had ended, the Kris were already almost extinct from inbreeding.

But Demons knew more about anything than any Earthly or Barsoomian scientist could dream of. They had fifty million years to play around so they'd not care about Ras Thavas’ work which they'd see as primitive and clumsy. Considering that when they grafted my tail on, or grew it while I was asleep, it worked perfectly. I could feel it and move it and it even had a fingerprint on the tip. I only had to get used to the thing. Also Demons wouldn't steal anything. If they wanted it, they'd simply scoop the entire tower up, take what they wanted and dump the Red Men on some planet to live or die alone. That's why the only living things on Hell are cockroaches. The Kris nuked the planet for three days and turned the surface into radioactive dust a half mile thick and somehow only the roaches that hitchhiked with the original English managed to survive.

No, I didn't think it was an inside job and it wasn't any extra-terrestrial race I knew of so it must be local. But who would be interested in cloning?

I settled in for the night, watching the marsh with Florina under my furs as we discussed what we knew. There was no clue that I could think of. Maybe had I read some of my mother’s detective novels I'd be better prepared for this.

Finally we went to bed and as I fell sleep holding her, it occurred to me that Ras Thavas promised me safety, not Florina. He could hold her to force me to submit if he wished. And with such an unpleasant thought I fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning with breakfast by the bed. As usual, she had woken up first and fetched me breakfast so I could eat while she picked up and readied my harness and gear for the day. I remembered coming to an important realization before I feel asleep but couldn't remember what it was. Well, doubtless I'd remember when the time came. So when I finished eating and cleaned up, I kissed her goodbye and went to work again.

I was in conversation with Ras Thavas, me seeking answers to the crimes and he seeking clues to my modifications when my antennae picked up a strong magnetic field nearby. Now this was remarkable as Barsoom has such a weak magnetic field that most Earthly compass’ wouldn't work there and Ras Thavas had nothing in his laboratory that would generate such a field. It wasn't there then it was. I looked around and saw the door open which was unusual but not unknown for the Mastermind would often forget to close it unless he wanted privacy. Then I felt the field in a corner near a bookshelf that possessed no significant mass of steel. When I looked away I thought I saw something there but when I looked back, nothing.

As I talked about my hands in detail, I walked over to the door and closed it and secretly slipped the lock, then returned, “I'm sorry Ras Thavas, some of your questions are personal and I'd like as few people as possible to know about them.” I acted nervous as he examined the bones in my hands, noting that the right and left sides were almost mirrored, as if the middle finger to the wrist were a center-line and they simply flipped the skeleton over. In truth, my outer thumb was a bit smaller than my original one. As he was poking and prodding my hands, feeling muscles and tendons and such, I acted nervous and scanned the area and noticed that there was an area where I felt the magnetic field that glowed a bit warmer that the surrounding area.

Deciding to experiment, I stared directly at that place and after a moment, it moved to the side. As if someone had been concealed there but wished to move to a new position. As the heat source moved, the books shimmered as if I were looking through disturbed air. Someone was there and cloaked. And compared to Demon Cloaks, this was effective but primitive for it took a second for light to settle in when he moved. Also I noticed that the curvature wasn't perfect. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see the books behind the man were distorted as if through poorly glazed window.

I jumped from the table and slammed our secret observer against the wall as hard as I could. Then I grappled with him and felt a fist strike my stomach. I whipped my tail around until I felt legs, wrapped and pulled as I pushed and we went down with me on top. Then, figuring that Ras Thavas could bring the man back, I pulled my dagger and drove it into the center of what was beneath me.

Ras Thavas wasn't stupid and knew instantly that I was grappling with an invisible enemy and called for assistance. By the time Yamdor had arrived with two guards, it was over. He knelt beside me and we felt our enemy as if it were totally dark. “Some sort of suit that covers his entire body, even his head.” He commented.

I felt around, using my antennae more than my fingers and found a switch which caused the body to become partially visible. A punch shook it and it shimmered into view. He was wearing what appeared to be a space-suit of unknown design. Ras Thavas had never seen one but I'd worn many so recognized the air tanks, helmet, gloves and all. What I didn't recognize was that the suit was covered with wiring that was attached to a power source that when I returned the switch to it's on position, caused the entire suit to become magnetically charged. A moment later, he faded from view as a number of small canisters opened and sprayed something which clung to its surface. I turned the suit off and rubbed the suit to discover, “The suit is covered with dust or fine sand. See how where I wipe, he becomes visible. The sand must be light refractive and contain a great deal of iron. He magnetizes the suit and sprays this dust which clings to the suit as iron filings to a magnet. Then when the suit looses power, the dust falls or is blown off. Ras Thavas, have you heard anything like this?”

He replied, “Yes, During the Morgor Wars, the Morgors of Sassoom used such a device to render their ships invisible. But a suit like this is unknown.”

“Well,” I added. “Now we know how your items were stolen. Let us remove the helmet and see who is doing this.” It turned easily with no locks and when I pulled it off, we saw not a Morgor but a Red man. This was interesting. “Perhaps he stole this suit during the war?”
Ras Thavas commanded his men to strip the body and take it to his medical laboratory, “Once I repair the damage you caused, we'll have our answers.”

He attached tubes to the jugglers of the body then started a machine that pumped preserving fluid into the body and blood out. Within a minute, the wound had turned the consistency of soft gelatin and after stripping to his waist and scrubbing his upper body, he began. The external wound was a simple knife wound but inside was a mess. As he struggled beneath me my blade and moved around and done considerable damage to lung and arteries, though his heart was untouched.

I quickly got bored with the procedure and turned to the suit. It looked functional and aside from the invisibility device, was completely normal, though obviously of foreign make. It wouldn't take much to repair the dagger hole though adjusting it for my hands, feet and tail would take some hard work.

I also found a pouch that contained nothing visible. But when I reached in I felt metallic cloth. It was strange holding an invisible blanket and I could see through it as if I were holding nothing. I passed my tail behind, touched it and still all was well, until I wrapped it around my hand. Then with all parts covered on both sides, I faded away. This could be useful so I rolled it up and placed it back into its pouch, intending to take it later. This did answer the question of how he got the stolen items from their locations. He simply wrapped them in the cloak and carried them out.

Finally Ras Thavas replaced the preserving fluid with the man's blood and woke him up. “You cannot move because I severed the nerves from your brain that control your arms and legs. I may repair that damage too if you answer my questions well.” He said to the man who simply lay there in silence.

I was holding the helmet and asked, “Where did you get this? Who do you work for? Why steal information on cloning?” but each question elicited naught but a glare.

“Let me, you are too gentle,” Ras Thavas said. “Guards, in the pits is a sith, bring it here at once. I think we will start with replacing his arms and legs with the limbs of an insect. I presume you will want to be awake and observe your transformation. Yamdor, take careful notes for science.” Then with still nothing said, he began to prepare his surgical instruments.

The two guards brought in a wasp the size of a bull and even in the low Martian gravity, I couldn't see how it flew, but fly it did. Entire sections of its exo-skeleton had been removed and lay over the openings for Ras Thavas had been busy with the thing. The Mastermind had removed one of the things many legs and lay it next to the table upon which his victim lay and even had made the first incision when the man screamed, “STOP! In the name of Issus stop! I'll tell you everything!’ he began to babble on until we placed a hand over his mouth.

“Answer my questions and more,” I said. He looked at the insect and began, “I am Kanton, a poor panthan from Zor. I was out searching for work when a number of Morgors came from nowhere and surrounded me. I was captured and brought into their invisible ship where another Red man awaited. He told me that I was now a slave of the Morgors and if I served them well, they'd pay me well but if I betrayed them, they'd make me suffer.” I noted that the doors were locked and scanned the area with every sense the Demons had enhanced and given but so far as I could tell, we were alone.

The man continued with no prompting for he knew that Ras Thavas was more than willing to carry out his threat. “I wasn't taught their language but my unnamed contact gave me this suit and told me what to steal from this place. I took what I was told and gave it to the Morgors. Please let me go, I'll go away and vanish forever.”

"Here, hold his arm for me,” The Surgeon directed.

“Hold please,” I asked. “Kanton, where is this Morgor ship, how many are they, why do they want cloning materials? You know what unasked questions to answer, I suggest that you begin quickly.”

“I take the items nightly to a place nearby and wait. They have a device that can detect my suit and I enter the ship, give them what I took and the suit and they pay me for my services and leave me in Toonol. Later they call for me and I repeat the process.” He was near hysterical for Yamdor had not bothered to release his arm nor had the Surgeon released his instruments.

A few more questions gave me enough details to formulate a plan and when done, I suggested that the man may still be useful to us so Ras Thavas replaced his knives and touched the button to return the man to a state of suspension. “The experiment would have been interesting,” he said with unfeigned regret.

“Ras Thavas,” I asked. “Can these men be trusted?”

“Quite, for they know that if I even think they are talking, they will wish they had thrown themselves headfirst to a banth for fear of what I would do to them.”

“Then we must plan. I need your best swordsman and best snipers. Please tell me about the Morgors for I remember the name only and no details.”

We sat in his study, after ensuring that we were alone and he explained, “The Morgors are a race of human-like beings from the next planet out. We call it Sassoom, they call it Garobus (I called it Jupiter). Their skin is transparent as are their organs so if they stand before a light, they appear to be but skeletons with faint organs floating in place. They had long ago conquered their own world and enslaved their neighbors so turned their eyes upon the face of Barsoom and a hundred years ago they invaded us. We fought back valiently but were loosing until for some reason no more Morgors arrived. With no replacements, we were able to destroy all that remained, capturing their ships and building our own to take the fight to their homeworld where we learned how close we had come to extinction.

“The Savator slaves of the Morgors took the opportunity to revolt while the Morgor fleet was away and the Savators killed and destroyed as much as they could. It was this revolt that prevented the Morgors from supporting their war on Barsoom. And later, our astronomers saw a huge fleet of Morgor ships leave Sassoom for deep space. Why they chose to leave the system rather than use that fleet to conquer us is a mystery for the fleet had at least a half-million vessels and probably twice that number. But leave they did. No one has heard aught from them for the last century until today.”

I pondered this. Interplanetary war was usually a fleet in orbit dropping nukes onto the enemy world until they were too battered to fight, then moving on to return to conquer the survivors later. Battles in space were fought at distances of hundreds of thousands of miles using missiles teleported to a range where they couldn't be stopped. This using space ships as nothing more than troop barges was new to me. It smacked of a pirate attitude, not a military one.

Ras Thavas explained away my concerns, “The Morgors are a military people and glory in war and killing. This warfare you describe is a horror. The Morgors like to see who they are killing because to them, fighting is more important than conquest. They have more than enough people to waste and care not how many die so long as they can fight.”

“Then here is my plan,” and I explained it carefully.

We couldn't do anything that night but the next morning we visited the pick-up area and used a compass I built to detect the magnetic fields of the Morgor ship. If the needle moved, there was a ship nearby. It was simple and very effective and Ras Thavas had many made and scattered about the city. Then we dug pits, settled in and waited.

When the needles signaled a ship, Ras Thavas’ greatest swordsman walked out wearing the invisibility suit and waited. Soon a door opened in the air and a Red Man called for Kanton. He approached slowly to give us time to move underground to the ship's location and then as he stepped into the Morgor ship, he pulled his contact out to us and leapt inside with drawn sword and revolver. We followed and managed to get myself and a few others inside before the ship left the surface. Once inside it was a brutal fight. The Morgors could easily have destroyed us with pistol fire from cover but insisted on attacking with swords and with swords we met them. Two of my men cut a path and I ran to the flight deck where I faced the pilot and crew who turned to face me. I wasn't an excellent swordsman but a year of lessons had turned me into a good one, and they were slow in the Martian gravity for Sassoom had a high rotation and so they were used to a much lower gravity. So with my superior Earthly muscles and Demon enhanced speed and strength, I needed little skill as I could easily knock their blades away and kill them. My men had a similar advantage and although outnumbered, they managed to take the ship.   Had they held up until they reached orbit and been able to adjust ship-gravity to their norm, the battle would have been theirs so more by surprise and ferocity were we able to win in time.

By then I and another Red Man had taken the pilots seat and began to figure out the Morgor controls. We were some distance away and rising fast before we closed the outer hatch and slow our ascent. Then we played with the controls for awhile, noting the drive, speed and gravity and atmospheric controls and eventually flew back to the Tower of Ras Thavas where we landed away from the other fliers to keep our find a secret. The ship was stored in a hanger and all magnetic fields disengaged so our compasses could detect any magnetic fields that would indicate another ship or suit and Ras Thavas had the bodies taken to his lab for dissection and examination.

As for me, I had an idea. I still needed to report to London for I was unable to find a Gridley radio anywhere in Toonol or Ardane and the Stargate that brought me to Barsoom was one-way so this ship could be the solution to many of my problems.

I was looking it over with Florina when Ras Thavas approached. “I have sent word to your Jed asking him that you remain here for the time being in case others arrive. We will question the Morgors at our leisure and see what this craft has to tell us.”

“Ras Thavas,” I began. “May I have this ship as payment for my services to you?”

“I have no interest in mechanical things. It is yours.” He offered then he left the two of us alone.

“My Lord, why do you want such a thing?” Florina asked.

I looked at her and holding her hands, said, “I am dying here. You know it, Ras Thavas knows it. He can do much but your gravity is weakening my bones and muscles, you thin cold air is making me sick with pneumonia and your foods are poisoning me. I see why so few Jasoomians who come here survive. I must leave if I am to live. We both knew this time would come so…” I couldn't finish so we stood there holding each other.

Daily we examined the ship and questioned the Morgors and their Red Man servants. Ras Thavas had Kanton's apartments emptied and brought here as well as the other Red Men who served the Morgors. Although I disagreed with his methods, even the Morgors broke and talked. None knew where the fleet had gone or even if it would return. The Savators had virtually exterminated the Morgor race on Jupiter and they believed that if they could create hormads as did Ras Thavas once, they could re-conquer. Or, by cloning, increase their numbers, for Morgor women had always been few in number and most had died in the rebellions, killed by their Savator slaves. The Morgors under our control were the only ones who were likely to come here though.

Over the next month I finalized my plans. I had a suit adjusted to my anatomy and I also took medical lessons from Ras Thavas. The ship, I examined carefully and had the air tanks purged a dozen times until the stink of ammonia-methane was gone for despite the fact that the Morgors breathed oxygen, they did add a generous amount of ammonia and methane to their air. I also figured out how to adjust the gravity to Earth-normal for I would have to do that slowly on the trip to Earth to give my bones and muscles a chance to re-adapt to what I felt was normal. Plus, increasing air pressure and temperature and changing the lighting from the red that the Morgors found normal to that of the sun was important. In short I had to adjust every facet of the ship to slowly increase over the three weeks Ras Thavas felt it would take for me to return to normal.

Making these adjustments took a month easily but that time also included collecting supplies, flushing toxins from the Barsoomian food so I could eat them easily, spending time with Florina and so on.

One day, Ras Thavas took me aside and said, “You have kept your part of our bargain and worked hard to keep us safe from this threat. So I will tell you this. You cannot take Florina with you.”

“Why not?” I asked dreading the answer for that is exactly what I planned to do.

“Your body was created for Jasoom, its air and gravity and temperature as was Florina's body created for Barsoom. For you, coming here is dangerous but doable. And returning to Jasoom is simply a matter of re-adjusting your body to what you call normal. But for her, it would be impossible. She simply cannot grow strong enough to survive your world. I'm sorry.” And for the first time I saw real regret in his voice.

I was thinking fast and irrationally here, “Then, can you take a tissue sample from me, clone her a body and transplant her brain?”

“I thought of that myself and have been working to that goal but I am years away from success. I may be able to clone you and can easily place her brain within but the nerves wouldn't match for despite our outward similarities, our brains are different and I'd have to locate every one of a thousand-million nerves, find where they went and move them to a new location. What would be a simple two zode operation would take weeks. Then the clone. I don't know if the clone would be Jasoomian or this Weir you are now. I might be able to make it female but it wouldn't look like her but like you. I will keep working but expect little success for years.” He explained it too easily.

I returned to our room and told her the bad news. She took it better than I did and said, “I knew this time would come. I had hoped I could go with you for your world would accept us easier than does mine. Give me my night before you return me to Amhor and leave.”

I didn't tell her that when I returned looking as a Weir instead of a human, I couldn't be certain my own reception would be friendly so I gave her what she wanted and more. I scrubbed her back, rubbed her feet, did all that I could to make her feel loved so she would know how much I cared for her and later, when we slept, I woke up to hear her crying in a corner. I simply rolled over and cried myself. My father would have been disgusted with that but I didn't care.

It was time. Ras Thavas promised to keep working to this goal and so I lifted off in my new space-ship and we flew to Amhor in silence.  She refused to remove her collar on the flight and I granted her that dignity until we arrived at her city. Then, she asked me to remove her collar and when I did so, legally freeing her, she left the flight deck as I talked to the Amhor navy, explaining that I was in the service of Toonol and returning one of their women to her family. They led me to a hanger and there I was surrounded by armed soldiers as I opened the hatch to allow them to enter.

I didn't recognize Florina as she came forward dressed as a Free Red Woman, so much had her harness and walk changed. She held her hand to me and I knelt and kissed it as she said, “Lord Innis, thank you for all the respect and courtesy you have shown me and for returning me to my city. Know that you will always be welcome in my home. Please have a safe and pleasant journey to your own home.” Then she turned and with two soldiers carrying her belongings, the gifts I had given her and the money we had taken from the Morgor servants, she left without a backward glance.

I watched her through the viewport as she turned and waved but I could only kiss my fingers and touch them to the port, then leave. It would be a long and very lonely trip home and I missed her so much already.



Gheeyat-   phundahl soldier Jason defeated in the marsh
moorouk - a small tree dwelling animal with 6 legs and a prehensile tail.
Ardane - city subject to Toonol
Florina - slave, from amhor  130 Martian years or 245 earth years old
Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane
Barsoom logo art by Jeff Doten

Rick Johnson's Barsoom Fiction

Eibhlin Story 
Crossover Stories
Jason Story
Panthan on Mars =>
Lost on Barsoom
Meeting of the Panthans I
<= North to Barsoom
 Meeting of the Panthans II
Battle at U-Gor <=>
     ERBzine Refs
Rick Johnson Feature Articles and Fiction in ERBzine
Worlds of ERB
ERBzine 1645: Johnson: ERB Fan Profile
ERBzine 1522: Sociology of the Wieroo
ERBzine 1527: Maltheusian Decimation in Pal-Ul-Don
ERBzine 1547: Opar
ERBzine 1710: Conflict!
ERBzine 1965: Rescue In Pellucidar
ERBzine 1974: Anatomy of an Alien

ERBzine 2304: Prelude to Weir-Lu of Caspak

ERBzine 2388: Bright-Eyed Flower of Pal-ul-don

ERBzine 2394: Dinosaur Survival On Earth

ERBzine 1578: Barsoom Questions
ERBzine 1370: Mapping Barsoom I: Can It Be Done?
ERBzine 1562: Mapping Barsoom II: Compromises
ERBzine 1565: Mapping Barsoom III: The Past
ERBzine 1633: Valley Dor
ERBzine 1634: Swords On Mars
ERBzine 1711: A Panthan of Mars
ERBzine 1712: Spy: Arrival On Mars
ERBzine 2165: Battle at U-Gor
ERBzine 2166: Lost On Barsoom
ERBzine 2167: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. I
ERBzine 2168: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. II
ERBzine 2169: North to Barsoom
ERBzine 2196: Jahar
ERBzine 2303: Return to Barsoom I: Letters

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