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Volume 2166

Rick Johnson

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This story is one that merges with the Eibhlin on Mars trilogy that merges with the  Panthan on Mars story a couple years after Panthan and leads into Battle at U-Gor.
The sequence is this:
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 <=>


I stood there, upon the rock in the sunshine, my tail twitching, not bothering to stop it, staring at the horizon that was far too close for comfort.  Naked, of course, I should be used to this by now. The sun beating upon my back.  A third again from the sun was this world and despite the distance, the lack of Van Allen Belts and an all-too thin Ozone layer in the vanishing atmosphere that allowed more UV to penetrate.  Idly I did the math, I was receiving almost ½ the sunlight, heat and UV that I was used to back home.  No, less than that for being Irish and living in Erie Sector on Drakonis, the sunlight received at 53 degrees north through an overcast sky was far less than my calculations based on a clear equatorial sky.  I’d burn soon.  My pale skin wasn’t yet adapted to this world.  And, I laughed at the thought, my naked genitals would burn first and most severely.  What would I do when they blistered and peeled?  No hand lotion or aloe vera plants nearby and even if I had some, would the act of rubbing it over my reddened skin cause excitement?  Would the resulting erection be more painful?  And on this world, erections outside the marital bedroom often resulted in castration or death.

I began to stir with the thought so switched to other avenues of thought.  Where was I?  Oh, I knew this world.   I had spent a local year or more here long ago when I was still a kid.  Since leaving I had become fascinated with the world, reading all that I could find.  Astronomy, Geography.  Biology.  All the incredible lack of information ignored by a dozen explorers over the centuries of visitation.  Nay, for if the Valdron theory was correct, Earth-Humans had colonized this world a million years ago and had been visiting ever since.  Most died.  Sunburn, starvation, food poisoning and if they lived long enough, skin cancer from the un-encumbered Ultra-Violet Radiation.  Or the lucky ones died under the claws and teeth of the local predators or the swords of the inhabitants.  These were lucky only because slow poisoning by arsenic or potassium chloride or strychnine or any of the hundreds of chemicals native to this world, chemicals the indigenous fauna had adapted to, chemicals that Humans did not, was a painful and uncomfortable death.

Still, a death preferable to that given by the Green Man who saw torturing a prisoner as a pleasant means to while away the evening.

A sound behind me indicated that my companions were waking up.  Well, we’d see what killed them first.  Dehydration, banth, sunstroke, enemy warrior or myself for I still had my mission to accomplish.  I knew the planet, but not the specific area upon the face of the God of War.   From the sun’s angle, I guessed to be away from the equator, maybe 60 degrees?  But where?  Over those hills could be a forest or desert or more hills but no real water.  And the moss upon which my companions rested was inedible to humans though local herbivores would grow fat upon the reddish vegetation.

We were in a round depression it seemed.  Probably an ancient meteor strike that never eroded away.  On Earth and Gaea, these were overgrown with trees and worn away by rain but this world hadn’t seen rain in a thousand years, probably a hundred thousand years and erosion by wind was a slow process.  So what looked like hills was really the rim thrown up by the impact maybe a hundred million years ago.  But here, a gentle walk up the slope led to another equally gentle walk down the outside to the real planetary surface. 

These impact craters tended often to catch moisture so vegetation was thicker here and often there were mantilla which could feed us and the smaller animals which we could eat in very small amounts.  Assuming you didn’t mind loosing weight from what the Americans called Montezuma’s Revenge, though here it was caused by food poisoning and nutritional deficiency and not micro-organisms that quickly died in our human guts. 

A gasp!  That must be Dr Jennings.  She was young and blonde and beautiful and found her beauty to be both a curse and a blessing.  She probably never had to buy dinner or a drink in her life.  She also had to work twice as hard as her associates to be thought of as half as smart.  Fortunately, considering the men she worked with, that wasn’t difficult.  Well, time to get this over.

Taking a deep breath, I turned and squatted, crossing my hands in front more for embarrassment than decency for Captain North, it seems, wasn’t bragging when he compared himself to a horse during one of his many attempts to seduce Jennings.  I gave them a chance to look me over, my prehensile tail, my pointed ears, cat’s eyes, two thumbs and antennae.  Plus what the American’s called a Farmer’s Tan. Back home I rarely lounged in the sun, we simply didn’t have that much sun on my farm and I was too busy to waste what free time I had.  The last time they saw me, I looked human.

Jennings was huddled, her legs crossed and pulled to hide her pubic area, her arms crossed over her breasts.  Capt North managed to stand without falling, no mean feat in this .38 gravity, and stared at me, ready to attack and finish the fight we had started on Earth moments ago.

“I suppose you are wondering why I called you here on such short notice.  Well, it seems security has been breached.”  Blank looks.  “I suppose bad humor is inappropriate here.”  That is when North launched himself at me.  The fool.  I was shorter than he by inches and lighter by far than his body-builder’s physique but my Weir body possessed twice his human strength and I had countless hours of training in low to zero-grav combat whereas this was his first time off-world.  These Americans of the late Twentieth Century rarely strayed more than a few hundred kilometers from their surface, having lost the ability to even visit their own moon.  He stumbled and would have fallen had I not grabbed his neck and tossed him twenty feet away.  His two men tried to follow their leader but I palm-struck one and back-fisted the other.  Then I returned to my rock.  The three scientists hadn’t moved.

“Dr. Carl Stroud, project leader.  Dr. Ellen Jennings, assistant project leader.  I don’t know the technician.  Captain Mark North, security and two of his men that the telly calls ‘crewman one and crewman two’ because they will die in the first few scenes so why waste time learning a name.

“I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, Baron Drakonis.  You may call me ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Baron Obrien’.  As you can see from my appearance and hear from my accent, I am not really one of you.  I was sent here, rather there, to stop your experiment only to find that you succeeded as I failed.  Please, Captain, curtail yourself and your men lest I kill you all as easily as you can a child.  All will be made clear in time.”

“What did you do to us!”  Jennings was near hysterical. The others in shock.

“I, my dear, did nothing.  This is all your own work.”  I sighed in the thin air.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  Logic dictated that I kill them all here and now and solve this part of the problem but I hesitated.  The curse of the good man is that he wishes to postpone and justify the inevitable crime while the evil man will simply get it over with.  Hopefully, the device I planted had destroyed their equipment and so would cancel the project. 

“During the Second World War, the US Navy tried to develop a means of deflecting radar.  The Philadelphia Experiment failed with unforeseen consequences.  The battleship they used vanished, reappeared hundreds of miles away within seconds, crewmen went mad, hallucinated and some vanished forever.  The project was cancelled and the men considered insane.  No one believed what they had claimed.  You, Dr. Stroud, thought it would make you famous if you could solve the problem and develop a radar cloaking-device.  So you called in a few favors and got some limited funding, a small lab and a few fairly inadequate assistants.  In fact, with the possible exception of Dr Jennings here who saved your project, your experiments were noted for their incompetence and the only reason you were allowed to continue was because of that Senator who owed you a favour.

“So with the competent assistance of Dr Jennings, the adequate assistance of that tech who is shivering in the cold and the paranoid psychosis of Captain North, you accidentally created a means to teleport across the galaxy.  You, Dr Stroud, didn’t even understand the math you were doing.  I wonder if Dr Jennings had an idea of the project?”  She looked down again.  Yes, she knew.  She was using Stroud and he wasn’t smart enough to realize that his ‘dumb blonde’ assistant was doing all the real thought and work.

“So, with Captain North, a man so paranoid that he is totally unable to survive in the real world but is imminently qualified for the one task he has been assigned, you blundered around until you caught our attention.

“Your race isn’t intelligent enough, mature enough, dare I say civilized enough for such a device.  So I was sent here to sabotage the thing.  Unfortunately, of the dozens of conspiracies that Captain North invented to ruin a dozen lives, the one that turned out to be real was the one that I needed to succeed.  He interrupted me as I was finishing the device that would cause your experiment to fail with such spectacular pyrotechnics that even your benefactor would have to pull your funding, thus condemning you to academic mediocrity and your capable assistants to a future career in the fast food industry.  My congratulations, Captain.  I underestimated you to my loss.”

I let them breathe in the thin atmosphere and took the opportunity to catch my own breath.  I wasn’t adapted to this place yet and needed iron and protean to grow enough red cells fast enough to survive.  And the only food source I could see was the humans before me.

Another bad joke.  I rarely indulge in cannibalism though like all anthropologists I do believe that missionaries should be killed and eaten with attractive missionaries eaten then killed.  Briefly, I wondered what Jennings would taste like.  But not in that way for she was attractive and it had been a long dry spell and my Need was fast approaching, a curse of this Weir body that requires regular sex to survive.  Again I felt stirrings below so switched back to the business at hand.

“Why did you bring us here?”  This was the assistant. 

“I did not bring you here.  YOU brought us here.  Your cloaking device was really a teleporter and IT, not me, brought us to this planet.”

“Planet?”  Jennings spoke up.  “We are on another planet?”

“Of course.  Note the pink sky, two moons, smaller sun and low gravity.  This world is definitely not Earth.  The question now is to find water and food that I can digest without poisoning me.”

“Isn’t this your planet?”  Stroud asked this one.

“No it isn’t.  I am a visitor as are you.  I spent some time here a couple centuries ago, subjective, but that was in the marshes and not this desert so all I know comes from the journals of previous explorers who were more concerned with survival than with scientific studies.

“As for you all, I hadn’t intended your deaths but it does solve a problem.  I was sent to stop your work.  So my current priorities are survival, return home and ensure that your project fails.  Your eventual deaths here solve the third and my chances of returning home are increased alone.  I’d like to wish you good luck but frankly, that would be counterproductive.  Slán agat!”  And with that I stood, turned and began to leave when the tech called out, “You’re just leaving us?  We’ll die here!  How do we get home?”

Turning, I explained to the children for my race, though far younger than humanity, had the advantage of very good teachers, “Yes, I am leaving you here alone to die.  I thought that I had made that clear.  We need your project to fail and without the assistance of Dr Jennings, it would have and I would now be home with a good book watching the sunset.  It’s hard but necessary.”

“We need to stick together to survive!” This from Captain North.

“We do not.  I know something of this world but you do not.  And so trying to find adequate food and water and survive the predators will be difficult enough for me, naked and unarmed as I am.  Dragging you along decreases my chances for survival and frankly, with the possible exception of Dr Jennings, who is sitting upon and hiding her only useful assets, none of you possess any skills of value to me here and now.”

They argued and I was certain that I could easily outdistance them when I left.  By the time they learned to walk in this gravity, I would be long gone and they banth food.  Then Jennings said, quietly, “I’ll sleep with you.”


“I said I’ll sleep with you.” She was almost shouting.  “I don’t want to die and if that is what it takes to convince you to save me, I’ll do it.”

“You humans like to make promises you will not keep.  You claim that you were coerced or you redefine the terms.  So why should I believe you?”

“Because my life is in your hands.  If I don’t put out, you leave me behind.  So long as I make you happy, you keep me alive.  So I give you sex, anytime and any way and as often as you want.  One condition though, well two.  First you keep ALL of us alive, not just me.  I’m paying for six lives with my body.  Second you return us to Earth.  I’ll make certain the project fails so you don’t have to report to your superiors that you screwed up.  In return, I’ll be imaginative and passionate and the best you ever had.  Deal?”

She was looking me in the eyes now and telling the truth.  She still was hiding her body but she wasn’t lying about her offer for Weir can easily detect the skin temperature changes and other physiological responses that indicate deceit.  I looked at the others.  They stared at her, knowing that their lives depended upon the person who they had treated as little more than a pretty face.  Knowing that their existence depended on her and knowing deep down that she was now a whore and they were now pimping her out.

“You think highly of yourself.  Perhaps too highly for American women have a reputation of performing sex as if they were asleep. But agreed!  With conditions.  First I am in charge.  This is a harsh world and failure to obey immediately could easily kill us all.  So anyone who hesitates to obey or who argues, will be beaten into submission by myself.  Second, when I return you to Earth, the project ends and none of you speak of this incident, ever.  We will watch you and any violation of what you may now consider to be the Official Secrets Act will result in your immediate assassination and the murder of everyone you tell.  Have you any arguments?”

There were none so I had them practice walking as I explained, “IF I am correct, we are on Barsoom. This world is dying and has been for a half million years.  Everything here is intelligent and everything here survives by killing something else.  There are humanoids here but they see you as either potential slaves or as competition for dwindling resources or as potential enemies. If they choose the first, you will live in chains, if the other two options, you die. Life here is that simple.”  They muttered and grumbled as they fell flat but Jennings never looked at any of them.  Her embarrassment at her deal and her attempts to remain covered and not look at the men consumed her.  North, however, made every effort to show himself off.  Not that I could blame him for he had the body that spoke of long hours wasted in the gym to look good.  Plus, he easily had more manhood than any two or three men combined, myself included.  I admit that I was jealous.

Stroud ignored her, his opinion of her value suddenly confirmed but North approached and demanded, “How could you be willing to do that!  He’s not even human. It’d be like screwing a monkey, for god’s sakes.”

“If you don’t like the deal I made, then go off on your own.  He took you and both your men out without effort.  He knows this world better than we do.  He is an alien so understands space travel and he knows where we are and where Earth is.  Right now he is our only hope for survival so deal!”  The woman was showing that she was far more intelligent than they and had worked at the problem and found a solution long before her companions knew that a problem existed.

I saw something on the rise and said, “DOWN!” as I fell behind a rock.  Stroud and North remained standing, the one from sheer stupidity, the other from a need to see for himself.  I knocked both off their feet with a leg-sweep and cried, “Shhhh!” and pointed as I choked Stroud to silence with my tail.

A small herd of thoats was running over the ridge and into our crater.  If they took the easiest path, they’d come close to us but thoats rarely run in panic without reason.  As the herd crossed some hundreds of meters from us, two banths appeared in chase.  Now we had trouble.  If the banths caught sight, sound or scent of us they’d abandon the thoats for easier prey.  And for some reason, banths could eat Earthers wheras their meat would poison us.  The Gods were with us this time and all soon vanished over the ridge.  But to be certain I kept the people low.  Sometimes calot packs followed banths to drive them from their kill or to scavenge the left-overs.

When I allowed them to rise, the tech cried, “Thoats and banths!  We ARE on Barsoom.  I never dreamed it really existed.  I mean I read the novels but I thought they were just fantasy.  What’s John Carter really like?”

“What the hell are you talking about!” North demanded.

“Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He wrote a bunch of stories in the first half of the century about John Carter, a Confederate soldier who traveled to Mars and lived there.  Burroughs pretended that John Carter was his uncle and told him the stories but everyone thought that was just a literary device.  But it’s real!”

“This isn’t Mars!  I’m not an astronomer but even I know that nothing lives on Mars.  The Voyager probes proved that.  You’re insane.”

They argued until Jennings asked me, “What’s the truth Mr. O’Brien?”

“You may call me ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Baron Obrien’.  I am a Noble, not a gentleman so do not wear the title ‘Mr’.  As for your question, Yes, this is Barsoom.  As for it also being Mars, the arguments still are being fought.  Burroughs did exactly what he said he did, people told him stories which he dressed up to be more glamorous and exciting and then sold them to pay the rent.  Was John Carter really his Uncle or just a family friend that he called ‘uncle’ I do not know, never having met either.  But although the stories are true in substance, there were mistakes and omissions. Like he failed to mention the pink sky which is caused by airborne dust.  On clear and calm days the dust settles and the sky turns bluish but mostly it’s pink.  On Earth all land vertebrates evolved from a single species of four-finned fish which is why all land animals have four limbs.  Here there were multiple evolutions which is why you find six, eight and ten legged creatures as well as sentient insects.  Anything with four limbs is probably imported from off-world.” 

I resisted to inform her that associating with the two soldiers who served North was dangerous for like my own Barony, Barsoom saw tattoos as a means of identifying criminals so only those who had a history of crime bore ink on their skin.  North, being an officer, and Stroud being a nerdy scientist would never think of being tatoo’d.  I was surprised that the Tech and Jennings bore clean skin for it was customary for Americans to deface their bodies like some Japanese Yakuza though any piercings, including Jennings’ earrings, had vanished with our clothes.

I continued, planning to deal with that problem later, “For now we need to leave here and find food, water and shelter for the nights get very cold.” And I led them off at a decent clip that would eat the miles but not tax our unaccustomed lungs.

“Why this way?”

“Because the banths went that way.  I’d rather not run into them returning to their lair.  Banths are normally solitary night-hunters but there are exceptions.  This was probably a mated pair that the herd woke and they decided to not waste the chance for dinner.  Calots are day pack-hunters and far more dangerous even if they are smaller.  White apes tend to remain in forests, swamps and dead cities.  Those are the three main predators we are likely to run into, any of which can easily kill us even were we armed.”

Hours later the sun was approaching the horizon so I halted, reached out and rested my palm on the horizon and measured the height of the sun in palms.  “I figure about two more hours of daylight.  Let’s try that ridge there.  If it’s low enough inside there may be sustenance.”  I glanced back and decided that naked women, especially running across the landscape, are beautiful but naked men are just ugly.  Jennings had two things in her favor.  Low gravity and normal sized, for a human (though tiny for a Weir and large for a Barsoomian) breasts.  North just looked foolish with his overly long genitals flapping as he walked.  Prince Albert of England had that problem so he pierced the end and tied it to his thigh.  Perhaps I should suggest that to North?

Once near the top of the ridge, I slowed and lowered my profile as I moved forward.  I didn’t want anything on the other side to see me before I could see it.  But a careful look revealed nothing moving.  “There,” I pointed.  “That’s our destination.”

“What?” asked North.  The others were too tired to speak, trying to get more air into their lungs.

“That shadow.  See how regular it is?  Almost as if it were built.  Also that dark patch looks like vegetation and so near those rocks, it could be a mantilla grove.  They tend to grow more often near rocks where they can keep warm at night by collected heat.”

The Tech then asked between pants, “If it’s so far from the sun, why is it so hot during the day and so cold at night?”

“For the same reason you can bake a cake in your car.  There aren’t any Van Allen Belts here so the Ultra-Violet light comes through without hindrance.  Then the UV strikes the rocks and induces Infra-Red heat which is excited faster than it can radiate away, thus the day-time heat.  When the sun sets, no more UV and the IR radiates throughout the night.  Deep shadows and night are near freezing here.  Day is hot.  We need to find cover to retain what little heat we have until morning.”  I led them to the object I sighted which was revealed to be two old wagons, their wheels on one side shot away.

“What caused these holes?  They look like explosives but aren’t anyplace where a demolition team would plant any.”  North was being a soldier again.

“Rifle fire.  They use thermo-nuclear rounds here.  Over there a bunch of raiders, probably Green Men, hid behind those rocks and ambushed a caravan.  These two were damaged and left behind as the others tried to escape.  Maybe they did, maybe they were captured.   But the wagons were too damaged to take so they were abandoned until later which never came.”  I found an axle and shoved it under the bed.  “Help me flip this over.”  With Jennings and the tech pulling the lever and the rest of us pushing we managed to flip the wagon onto its top, then we levered a corner up and shoved a rock underneath the edge.  I then broke some boards from the other wagon side and shoved them under our new home to provide a floor then led them to the grove I spotted.

Now I began to chip away at a rock I had found, some flint-like stone, until I had a poor but serviceable hand-axe.  As I worked, “These are mantilla plants. They produce a milky sap which will keep you alive for years.  It can be made into cheese or an omelet or a dozen other things or simply drunk straight.  It’s bland but nutritious.”  The plant looked like a reddish-brown pineapple that had been stretched to maybe a meter high though there were broken stumps that indicated thoats had eaten the smaller ones.  The bark was mostly scales and the top sprouted broad leaves that the plant turned to the sun to capture as much sunlight as was possible.  “We carefully cut away a single scale and make a series of overlapping V-cuts thus to encourage the sap to drain down.  You catch it in a cup or your hands and drink it down.”  I demonstrated and allowed the sap to collect in my palms, then drank it and licked my fingers.  Jennings took over and said, “It’s like thick cream.”

I repeated my procedure with six other plants so we each had one and in short order our bellies were filled and all were in better graces.  I also removed a couple of the bright red inner leaves that had just begin to grow and used my stone axe to split the cover and then peel the skin back to reveal the insides.  “This stuff works like Aloe Vera and will sooth our sunburn.  But don’t drink the sap, external use only.  And clean your hands before you rub your eyes or eat anything more or you’ll get sick.”  I couldn’t find anything to hold more milk so I replaced the scale which soon adhered to the wound and led them back to the wagon.

“It’ll get dark soon and very cold, so outside watches are not possible.  Do your toilet now and take turns on watch inside as the rest sleep.”

I was finishing voiding my bladder when Jennings came to me, put her arms around my neck and kissed me.  “I’m ready to fulfill my part of our bargain now.”  I could tell she was forcing herself and didn’t want to do this.

I stirred again then pulled her arms away.  “As much as I want to, it’ll be too cold in a few minutes outside and I was never one for public sex so you have the night off.”  I know I was disappointed but she looked relieved.  “My Lord, can you build a fire for us?  I’m still freezing and I hate being naked.”  Calling me ‘my lord’ probably was as hard for her as pretending passion.

“I’ve been testing rocks and can’t find any that create sparks.  Plus no grass to make string so I can’t even make a bow-drill yet.  Tonight we suffer.  In the morning we’ll look around for something useful.”  Then I led her to the wagon and we crawled inside to huddle in the darkness.  After assigning North to set watch with me early in the morning, I fell asleep, shivering in the cold.  I was slowly drifting awake when I heard Jennings shove my genitalia aside and mumble, “Stop poking me Eddie, it’s too cold.”

I woke up at that, looked at myself wrapped around Jennings with us all pretty much spooning each other then removed myself as carefully as I could and looked around.  Sunlight was leaking through the opening but in the darkness I couldn’t tell if the man who was to relieve me was around.  In the darkness I couldn’t see anything but a big blob of infra-red with no real definition so didn’t know if there were three or six or ten bodies in that pile.

So I crawled through the opening and basked for a moment in the sunlight then noticed the moss under my feet had been torn up.  No, not torn, dug up as with claws.  Using my hand as a measure I saw the spread was larger than me so it wasn’t a calot, probably a banth.  But why would a banth stop digging us out and leave.  Being a sound sleeper, I could have been half-consumed before I noticed and woke.  I re-entered and tried to find North by the procedure of kicking feet until I heard his voice mouth an obscenity.  “North, wake up, we had a visitor last night.”

He was awake instantly then called another profanity when he realized that the body wrapped around him wasn’t Jennings.  And when he exited the wagon, I showed him the claw marks.  “A banth tried to dig it’s way in last night.  Then for some reason went away.  Did you see or hear anything on your watch?”

“If I had I’d have awakened you.  Kahn didn’t say anything when he woke you?”

“I awoke alone with the sun peeking through.  I don’t know if he’s asleep or what.”

He was angry in an instant, “Kahn!  Get your sorry ass out here now!”  Then to himself, “I’ll have him doing push-ups until cows evolve on this miserable planet!  KAHN!”  Now he was banging on the wood waking everyone up.  As each crawled out, grumbling, he took each and demanded, “Did you see or hear anything last night?”

As each made their denials, he glanced over the five before him then went back inside screaming for his missing man.  A moment later he exited, “He’s gone.  Wilks, did you wake Kahn like you were supposed to?”

“Yes sir!  All was normal, sir!”

“All right, ladies, Kahn is missing, everyone do a sweep around the area.  He’s probably taking a leak someplace.  Do NOT get out of sight of the compound!  GO!”

I started my own search then Wilks reported, “Captain North, Baron Obrien, over here.”

What we saw was a wet spot against a wagon, the moss already running tendrils up to take as much moisture as it could.  North touched the spot, sniffed and said, “Urine.  He probably came outside against orders to take a leak.”

Then the tech called out, “Your Grace!  Blood!”

We looked over the spot and found dried blood, all moisture sucked from the brownish spots, staining the reddish moss.  Wilks walked away from the urine and found more, “It looks like he was bleeding and went this way sirs.”

“We now know what probably happened.  While on watch Kahn left the wagon to answer the call of nature.  While thus occupied the banth arrived and started to dig his way in to us.  Then it heard or smelled Kahn and left the wagon to kill and drag him away.  Captain, feed the men, then scour this place for anything the raiders may have missed.”

He called as I turned away, “What are you doing?” then added “Lord” when he saw my look.

“I am going to find Kahn.  So long as he is my responsibility, I need to find him or his body.  Captain, if the banth returns you are the best qualified to keep the rest alive.  Food, weapons, gear, safety.  Go to it!”  Then I left barely catching his salute as I turned away.

The trail was easy once I got used to the signs.  Occasional blood spots, occasional moss torn up.  Soon I was able to trot and still follow the trail to the rise.  I should have left them behind.  Had I done so, I’d be well on my way home now instead of being slowed down by people too stupid to know what to eat.

It wasn’t long, running, before I found the lair.  The thing was a pile of rocks with a hole dug out and bones scattered about.  Most were bleached white but one set of scattered were still brown and fresh… and apparently human though Red Men had a skeleton so similar it would take an expert to tell the two apart.  I avoided approaching too close but circled the place looking for evidence of Red Men, leather, buckles, weapons, anything to suggest that these bones belonged to another, but there were none.  And as the only naked human here was Kahn, his death was confirmed.  Cac!

I took my time wandering back, lost in my thoughts.  Kahn’s death made my life easier and Jennings wouldn’t blame me for it but still, I felt like I had let him down.  He was under my command and I was responsible for him. 

Thus depressed with my thoughts, I almost missed the dark red, almost brown, vegetation in the distance so ran over the see what it was.  The mass resembled a vine with broad brownish-red leaves and many gourds.  Many of these had been broken into and eaten but many others were intact.  The older ones had a hard shell and when I moved them I could hear the seeds moving around inside.  The plant resembled one I had seen in the Toonol Marsh and the locals used the gourds as canteens, cups and bowls and vases.  The fruit of the younger, softer gourds was edible, even to me so I worked a number free and used the larger leaves to wrap my bundles.  At least, now we had something useful.

They watched me return, hope dashed as they saw me alone, yet my bundle attracted attention.  “He’s dead,” I offered.  “I found the body.  We need to prepare and leave here fast!”

Jennings was crying but North asked, “Why leave so suddenly?  We have shelter and food. We should remain here until we can make clothes and weapons.”

I began to use a sliver flaked from my hand-axe to cut a small opening in the dried gourds and explained.  “The banths know we are here.  Tonight, tomorrow at the latest, they’ll return and without weapons, they will dig us out and eat us.  Take a stick and scrap the insides of these gourds then fill them with Mantilla milk.  These are now our canteens.  The softer ones are food.”  As they followed my directions, I began to fold the larger leaves into coolie hats.  When I gave one to Jennings, she asked, “You look foolish wearing that leaf, why?”

“Sunstroke.  These will keep you alive longer.  Also, everyone smear the leaf sap all over your bodies.  It will slow sunburn, help heal yesterdays burn and hopefully mask our smell from the banths.”

In short order we were all ready and left the wagons, wearing our leafy hats and carrying our meals in our arms.  Jennings came to me as we walked, supporting her breasts on her gourds.  Before she asked, I offered, “I took the largest leaves I could but didn’t have enough for clothing.”

“Not that.  I’m almost used to being naked.  Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Go after Kahn.  You want us all dead and his death would be in your own best interests.  Yet, you ran off the find him and somehow, I believe that you were serious and would have saved him if you could.  Why?”

“He was my responsibility.”

“I still don’t understand.  North would have gone over the ridge, looked for a few minutes then given up and returned with a story deciding that the many were more important than one man.  You were serious.”

“I have a complicated life,” I explained.  “Centuries ago, maybe 800 years ago, my country was conquered by a foreign nation.  We revolted constantly, trying to free ourselves.  They called us terrorists, rebels, savages.  500 years ago they got so tired of our fighting back they sold one fifth of our nation into slavery over the ocean.  Children were taken from the streets and loaded aboard the slave ships in chains as their mothers searched for them in vain.  Fathers returned home to starving children because their mother was taken by the oppressors and sold as a whore in the New World.

“The conquerors had a policy of taking whatever they wanted and what they wanted was our national treasures.  I was assigned to move them to a place of safety.  I wasn’t chosen because I was holier or braver or more noble than anyone else, I was chosen because they knew I’d get the task done.

“They followed us and I knew there was an ambush ahead but I had no choice.  I sent men to spring the ambush, men I sent to die to save the rest of us.  We got through only to meet the rest of their army on the other side.  I was shot twice and remember nothing else until I awoke with the ravens and dogs chewing on me.  The victors were taking my men, alive, dead, wounded and untouched, tieing a rope around each neck and pulling them to a branch to choke to death.  It takes three minutes of torture to pass unconscious from choking.  Another five minutes after that to die and I watched them kick and choke to death.

“I still had my mission so I left my men to die so I could steal the treasure and take it to safety.  My men trusted me and I left them to die.  I’ll not do that again.”

She couldn’t touch me as her hands were full but she did say, “I’m sorry for you.”

“When I returned home, still injured,” I continued, “I found that their Army, the Police, had been there first.  They had barred my door and burned my house to the ground with my wife and children inside.”

I didn’t look at her but moved ahead so I could shed my tears in private.  It had been more than a century ago and it still hurt.  Behind me I heard the tech talk to her, “I don’t understand him.  He sounds like he’s Irish but he looks and acts like an alien.  Why?  Did someone transplant his brain into another body or what?”

“Does it matter,” I heard North say.  “He’s a terrorist.  Irish Republican Army.  I read his file at the project on Earth.  They are all terrorists.”

“Can you blame him?”

“Does that justify planting bombs to kill innocent people?”

I’d been through this before.  My uncle believed that killing Protestants was as important as killing British.  The IRA threw me out when I took revenge on my Uncle for making me bomb that school bus.  I had signed up to free Ireland, not murder innocents.  But who was really guilty?  Who made me a murderer?  The British who conquered my country and murdered my family or my family that made me murder civilians because they were Brits?  That’s why I left Earth.  Even the Americans would never understand.  They had conquered America, murdered Red Indian women and children in their beds by bullet and disease and when the conquered fought back, the White Americans never understood why the Red wanted to be free.  If they could justify their own conquest and crimes, they’d never understand Ireland.

We spent the night between rocks, freezing then continued on. When Stroud asked why we were walking in this direction, I asked, “Have you another direction?” 

Once I asked Jennings, “Who’s Eddie?”

“My boyfriend. He’s probably wondering what happened.”

“Do you love him?”  I wondered if her answer would make me free her from our deal.

“That’s personal.  I’m trying not to think of that until I get home.  Are you married?”

“No.  Not now.  I believe in serial monogamy.  I prefer one wife at a time.”

“What happens to them?  I mean why aren’t you married now?”

“They die or leave.  My life is complicated and it takes a special woman to endure it.  Most try for the benefits of wealth, power and position.  Plus I can be charming and pleasant when I want to be and as you Americans say ‘I clean up well’.  But being married to a man whose main focus isn’t them but war is hard on most women.  I fight to keep my Barony safe.  My children will do the same.  Would you marry and bear children that you know will be sent to die on a foreign world before they are adults?”

Before she could answer Wilks stopped, sneezed then said, “I smell water.”


“Where?”  As far as I knew, the only free water on the entire planet was the River Iss and the Sea of Korus, neither of which were safe to approach.

“I don’t know.”  He licked his finger and held it up to catch the breeze, then said, “There!”

We quickened our pace but avoided running until we reached a cliff.  Below, maybe a couple meters, was running water.  Real water.  Reddish from the dust but still wet and the dust could be filtered.  “Does anyone see a way down along the banks?  If we jump, we’ll never get back up,” I asked as I scanned the stream.  It was wide but looked shallow.  Strange.  In any desert, open water like this would be drained for farms and cities.  I recalled a story a friend told me from Arizona when I had been looking for gold in the Superstition Mountains along the Salt River.  He said that once, you could take a river-boat from Phoenix down the Salt River to the Colorado River then another ferry to the Gulf of California then a steamer around Baja to San Francisco.  Then the farmers took so much water from the Salt and the Colorado that a riverboat got stuck in the mud west of Phoenix and had to be abandoned.  People who drove along I-8 or I-10 sometimes see the reflection of that Riverboat in the sky but the Salt is now dry and the farmers along it starving for lack of water.

We were looking at the river, a fatal mistake when Jennings screamed.  I turned and saw two Green Warriors rushing us with lowered lances. I shoved Jennings down then leapt aside to avoid the lance then up to attack the rider.  Getting to his height was easy with my muscles adapted to a higher gravity and as he sought to push me away long enough to reach for his dagger, I snapped his neck.  He fell and with my tail wrapped around his intermediate limb and my feet clutching his gear, he took me with him.  I unwrapped and pulled his dagger and found the rest being herded towards the cliff by the remaining Green Man.  His thoat was much larger than the ones we had seen earlier, almost three meters at the back with the Green Man towering another three above that.  The humans were terrified, as would I be when facing such a set of monsters.  But I had seen them before so threw the dagger.  Backed by my Weir muscles developed on Earth, the projectile drove into the Green Man’s back, creating a hole as large as a man’s hand as it quivered in place and he fell forward as his thoat panicked at the thoughts sent by it’s dying master.

Wilks fell into the river as the rest fell or ran to avoid the thoat which was larger and meaner than an earthly rhino but it ran over and into the desert to join it’s mate.  North began to run downstream so I yelled, “North, wait!”

“The hell with you,” he screamed back.

“No you idiot, take this!” and I ran forward to hand him the dagger which had a blade as long as his calf.  “Now take the tech with you and we’ll catch up.”

The tech pulled the short sword, a weapon with a blade near a meter long, and laughed as he ran off, “Call me Bar Komas!”

I watched them run to the left, south(?) and mumbled, “Great! A fool who thinks this is a game.  And he isn’t smart enough to realize that he just took a Green Man’s name.  Jennings, Stroud, help me strip these bodies.”

They both backed off, “That’s horrible,” she said.  “How can you touch these monsters?”

“As easily as you’ll touch me later.  We force ourselves to do what we must.  Here!” I tossed her a bundle of silk from a pouch, she cried in glee as she wrapped it around herself as a sarong.  Dressed now, she felt better but still refused to touch the dead.  Stroud was still in shock. He had said little and obeyed orders as if he were in a mental fog.  Depression?  Shock?  He ate and moved but rarely initiated anything.  If he didn’t snap out soon, he’d die. 

The Green Men were as described by every explorer or tourist on this world.  Some four to five meters tall, olive skinned. Two legs, two arms and a set of limbs between that can be arms or legs as needed.  Their eyes resemble that of an earthly chameleon, being set on the sides of its head and with the ability to turn in any direction.  And they had two tusks that grew from their lower jaws to end where their eyes would be were they human.  Plus they were thin.  Although their limbs were only slightly heavier than were mine, combined with their overall height, they had a distinctly insect-like appearance.

I got the harness off both and dragged a distance away and Jennings managed to pick up the weapons that had been dropped.  I then disassembled the harness and reformed it to fit me.  A belt around my waist, two more to cross over my shoulders and I then hung a long sword, dagger and short sword from my harness.  I also cut a swath of silk to form a g-string to cover my nakedness and duplicate the harness I had worn so long ago.  I then attached pouches and Stroud followed suit.  He cut a hole in some silk to make a poncho which he tied around his waist and another piece around his waist then between his legs and up to form a diaper of sorts.  His outfit covered more than did mine but he didn’t have to worry about a tail.  I found it interesting that despite the holes in the wagon-wheels, these Green Men had no firearms.

The sandals were too large and bulky but could be cut down later though if we remained on the ochre moss, shoes could wait. And then making a bundle of everything else, we moved on after North and ‘Bar Komas’ but slower as we were weighted down with gear.  I considered leaving the Green Man’s long swords behind, they having a blade easily two meters long but remembered the Swiss who used equally long blades to their advantage.

Some hours later we found a building with a stone pier reaching into the river.  As always, dust covered everything but since the sun was low, I called a halt and entered alone, with sword drawn and the gear with my companions.  A brief exploration revealed the place to be empty so I called Jennings and Stroud in which they did quickly and lowered their burdens onto the floor.  There were small rooms to the side with one obviously for washing so I took a convenient bucket, tied laces to the handle and sent Stroud to the river to fetch water as I collected dried thoat dung for the fireplace.  There really isn’t much you can do to vary these things.  Whether a pit in the center or an opening in a wall, if you want to heat a room, there are only a limited number of ways to do that. 

“Those things are disgusting, how can you touch them!” demanded Jennings in a totally inappropriate tone.

“At least these are dry.  There are dead bushes outside, please collect wood for the fire.”  I used the fire striker from the kit and soon had the thoat-dung burning.  With added wood and the shutters closed, we’d be warm all night.  I showed Stroud where to pour the water so the filter would remove the dust and after a number of trips, the cistern was full and we had clean water to drink and wash in.  I made certain Jennings watched me leave and scrub down in the river.  Then I cut and brought inside the thickest moss I could find which I placed on the sleeping platform that hung from chains and covered that with a layer of silk for a bed in one back room.  The fireplace was triangular with the opening facing the main room and two thin walls the other, smaller, sleeping rooms.  Heat radiating off the back walls of the fireplace would keep the bedrooms warm.  “Stroud, you may wish to bring in moss for yourself unless you want to sleep on the floor.”

Jennings came out finally with wet hair and a better temperament, now that she had washed up.  I suppose the constant sweat and dust had angered her.  She was again wrapped in her make-shift sarong so I called both over and explained the gear we had recovered.

“Green Men are the native sentients here. Some think they are evolved from White Apes, some think they and the Apes are distant cousins others think they were six limbed predators that evolved into bipeds.  There is a theory that humans from Earth were transported her as were we and settled in and took over, driving the Green Men into the deserts as barbarian raiders and thus accelerating their intellectual evolution.  Because thoats are so silent, it is unusual to detect their approach until it’s too late.  We were lucky today.  Had they captured us, we’d be tortured to death for their amusement.

“The gear we now have is weapons and medical mostly.  This is a torch.  Once activated by twisting the central shaft to exposure to the air, it glows.  Being radium based, it will glow for thousands of years.  This is a healing salve.  It will close and heal even the worst wounds.  There is a saying here, ‘Give a Green Woman a chance and Death Himself must turn away.’  These furs and silks are for sleeping and to keep warm in the night.  Jennings and I will take one, you, Stroud, may have the other.”

“You two, together?” he asked.

“Yes.  It’s still cold and I like to be warm occasionally.”  Jennings blushed at that and Stroud gave her a look that said exactly what he thought of her.  I locked the window lattices and doors for safety then passed out melons and mantilla for dinner.  Green Men rarely drink water, the mantilla milk providing all that they need.  All were silent so to kill time and fill the void, I offered, “North and Bar Komas didn’t stop here so Wilks must have been washed further downstream.  We can only hope that they avoid danger while they search.  Tomorrow we’ll continue on and try to catch them.  If this is the Iss, we should see pilgrims occasionally on the trip for the locals believe that this river terminates in Paradise and they follow the river when they reach their thousandth birthday or when they are tired of life.  If so, we must be careful for those who reach Dor, are killed if they return from there.”

“A Thousand years?  They live that long?”  Jennings asked.

“Or more.  My race lives 500 years easily.  Humans born on my world live a century or more with no trouble.  It’s a combination of biology, diet and exercise.  You humans try so very hard to die early but if you ate properly and avoided bad habits and actually made your world safe, you’d live longer lives too.”

“You always talk like you aren’t human but you also talk as if you come from Earth.  Which is it?”

“I was born human but kidnapped as a kid by Alien Demons who changed me into what you see here.  They needed people to work aboard their starships and everything you see is designed to work in zero-gravity.  That’s why I am shorter than North.  It’s easier for me to get into access tubes than would be for North.”

“These Demons don’t want us in space?  That’s why they sent you to stop me?”  Jennings asked.

“They do not.  Humans are dangerous.  Look at your own history.  Would you want your kind messing up a race that had 50 million years of peace and no crime?  It’s getting late, Jennings, please wash up for I’d like to talk to you in private if I may.”  She blushed at that again but returned to wash her hands and face.  I’d shown her the soap and how it would clean teeth, hair and skin so felt she’d feel better clean inside and out.

Stroud gave us both a dirty look then watched the fire burn down as she entered our sleeping chamber and I washed myself. I didn’t want to admit it but I was worried about North.  On Earth, and with the support of the American military and legal system to back him he was safe but here, alone, his arrogance would get him killed.  He’d probably demand answers and assistance of the first Red men he found who would kill him for being so arrogant.  And he’d take the tech with him too.  Now, would Wilks survive the trip downstream?  Red men cannot swim but Humans can. So with a slow current and a strong swimming ability, Wilks may make it to a landing though this one was convenient.  Was Wilks still alive?  How far would North go to find him? And would his guilt over Kahn force North to search longer than was necessary?

When I entered my room and closed the door, I checked the blinds to keep us safe from outside predators and made certain the fireplace wall was radiating heat for the night.  It was warm now but by morning it’d be cold again.  Jennings was already under the silks and fur, her sarong at the foot of the bed so I hung my harness from a hook on the front chain, made certain my short-sword and dagger were handy for the short-sword of a Green Man is the long sword of the Red man and the Red short-sword is the Green dagger.  Green Men make as little as they can, preferring to steal what they need and adapt whet they must.  That two-meter Long-Sword must have been re-forged from a number of meter-long Red Men long-swords.  Then naked, I slid in next to Jennings who took a deep breath and embraced me.

After that first forced kiss I pushed her away and said, “I’d like to talk first if you don’t mind.”

“Talk?  Were you always like this or did those Demons change more than your body?  Most men just want to jump on top and get it over.”

“We have time.  And I want answers.  Stroud was working on a radar cloak wasn’t he?”

“Yes.  He thought that if we de-gaussed an aircraft or tank, it’s generate a field that would prevent a radar lock by enemy missiles.  But you knew that.”

“But you knew it wasn’t working?”

“I may look like a dumb blonde but I’m not.  When I read his paper, I saw something else, it would de-gauss the iron but that wouldn’t deflect radar.  He had discovered something else.”

“Which you took advantage of.”

“Yes.  He wasn’t smart enough to see it but I did.  Call it a worm-hole or a tesserect or whatever you want but I believed he had stumbled over teleportation and I wanted to be there to prove it.  So I kissed ass and made coffee and said ‘yes doctor’ and all the time I worked on the real discovery.”

“Had he any intelligence at all, he’d have kicked himself up to project administrator and made you the project head and given you free reign.  Fortunately for us, the man is a total waste of his father’s sperm.”

She laughed at that.  “You don’t like us do you?”

“I don’t trust you.  I’m a lot older than you are, almost 200 years old and have seen a lot.  I have friends and lovers from Earth and you can be wonderful people but once you get together in a group, bad things happen.”

“Yet, you look like you are in your early twenties and you are planning to make me keep my part of the deal tonight?”

“As individuals, some of you are respectable and laudable.  You just turn into sheep.  You let Stroud push you around.  You let North treat you like a bimbo.  I, at least, respect your mind and properly trained, you’d be an asset to my own world.”

“How do you mean trained?  Like a dog or a slave-girl?” she snapped.

“Like a person.  Trained to think.  Trained to respond and not be angry.  Trained to stand up for yourself and your beliefs.  Trained to speak your mind.  I don’t look at you as a blonde mattress because I respect your abilities in and out of bed.  But we Drakonians believe in a healthy sex life too.  Weir like me die from celibacy.  Unless we get regular sex, we die.  It’s one of the blunders the Demons made when they changed us from human to Weir.”

“So if I say ‘no’, you will eventually die from lack of sex?”

“I will.  It will take a while for I was made into a Weir.  Those who are born Weir will die in a month.  It takes longer with me and I get really cranky and sick near the end.”

“So, by making this deal, by whoring myself out, I am not only saving my own life and that of my co-workers, I’m saving you too?  I like that idea.  It makes it somehow, less distasteful and more noble.”


I woke up with her in my arms, snuggling under the silks and furs.  And this time when I ‘poked’ her, she didn’t complain but responded.  Afterwards, she asked as she tried to find chest hair to play with, Weir being almost hairless save on our head and genitals and we grow no beards, and I caressed her cheek with my tail.  “What are your women like?”

The sun was rising, I figured we had a few minutes left, “About a third are from Earth, immigrants who are looking for a better life.  We offer those a chance, a home and little else.  A third are human but born on our worlds.  They mostly think like us but are torn between what their parents want and what the Barony needs.  The other third are Weir, like me.  Totally Drakonian with nothing of Earth save family stories.  Like what you heard from your grandparents but you consider yourself American despite where and when your ancestors came from.  Plus we enforce total equality and freedom.  Our Devil, the political leader of the four-dozen star-systems of our Barony, is a Comanche Immigrant from post Civil-War America and a woman.”

“No, in bed, I mean.”

I laughed at that.  “Most of us are bi-sexual and appreciate all sexes and genders.  Being born and raised on Earth, I’m considered a prude by our standards.  But with our Weir sex-drive, we are far more open, accommodating and passionate than are you.  Human men love Weir women for they get all the passionate sex they want.  Human women avoid Weir men for exactly the same reason.  But we have to be careful for I am far stronger than even North and would break you if I lost control.”

“And are they beautiful?”

“It all depends on your definition.  They are descended from Earthers. So we have all the racial distinctions you have.  We are shorter than the average Terran-human.  Women have larger and firmer breasts with a more-concentrated fat tissue to meet the nutritional requirements of a growing Weir baby.  No one is fat.  And Tattoos and Piercings are unknown since we heal so fast.  Jewelry is mostly glued on and body art is Henna.  Men tend to be about the same average size in that very few of us are built like North.”

“I’m glad.  That man scares me.  He thinks bigger is better but there is such a thing as too big.  I’m a woman, not a cow.  And marriage.  Tell me about marriage.”

“We are very liberal there.  Pregnancy out of marriage is a disgrace.  It shows that both parents are too stupid to understand birth control and we admire intelligence as you seek beauty.  Yes, Jennings, though you are undeniably beautiful, it is your brain that attracts me.  But marriage can be man-woman, woman-woman, man-man or any group.  We let the heart tell us what to do and try to never legislate the soul and heart.  Counseling is required before marriage and divorce so we have no nasty break-ups as do your kind.  And although most marriages are what you call ‘open-marriages’, sex without your spouses permission is adultery and a capital offence.”

“Sounds strange.”

“Most of us like it that way.  If you lay down in Central Park naked with a pile of money next to you, would you be raped, robbed or arrested first?  Do that on Drakonis and you’d wake up with a blanket over you and a rock on your money to stop it from blowing away.”

She leaned up then, the furs falling from her body.  “Really! How do you manage that?”

“Most crime is caused by over-crowding and poverty.  Give people room to breathe and eliminate poverty and most crime vanishes.  We don’t build prisons or pass laws, we make certain people have a place to live, a job to work and a decent life to live.  You spend more money on a single nuclear submarine for the military than you do on all of your schools combined.  Imagine what you could do if your teachers had all the money they needed?  I’ve never locked the door to my home.  I don’t think there are locks on my door.  I never looked.”

“Sounds like paradise.  Brains over beauty, no crime.  What’s the downside?”

“We are on the frontier.  The Shitai are always invading and we are at a constant state of war to fight them off.  If they win, we all die in a Shitai brood-chamber and the Shitai overrun the Commonwealth and eventually Earth.  Plus life is mostly dull there.   News talks about the weather and the apple crops.  Entertainment is mostly sit-coms.  Most of our population are farmers and ranchers and long days of hard work is the norm.  Even I, with my military rank, live on a farm and raise most of my own food.  Without heavy industry, most of the jobs you know simply don’t exist so we buy our technology from aliens.”

“Would I have a job in my field on your world?”

“Probably not.  Not unless you knew someone who could sponsor you like we sponsor artists.”

“I guess no place is perfect.  I’m hungry.  Can we get breakfast before we chase after Captain North?”

Stroud had to be woken and he gave us both a dirty look when he left his room.  “Eat up and pack fast, we need to find North and the others.”  He was a mess for without the modern grooming devices he had grown up with, his hair was tangled, his bead scraggly and his teeth needed more care.  I wondered how North and Bar Komas were doing for their hair was shorter and North needed no comb though both would be growing beards which were unknown among the White, Red and Black races of Barsoom.  In a few more days, they’d have a beard that would attract too much of the wrong kind of attention. 

We left the house which had probably been abandoned a thousand or more years ago and continued on.  Once we hid from Green Men and twice from banths and none of the Green Men had firearms.   Then we saw a body on the rocks below.  “Wilks!”  Jennings screamed for indeed what lay before was the bloated naked corpse of a white man with brown hair as was Wilks.  All Red Men had copper skin and black hair.   Taking my sword sheath in my tail to move it from the way, I climbed down the two meter drop and rolled the body over.  “It’s not Wilks.”  But who?

Barsoomians don’t tan easily so there is little change in their skin colour unless they are held in the pits for months or years.  But I could see faint lines that indicated that this man wore a harness when alive which meant that he had been stripped.  I looked around more carefully and found the marks of a previous visitor.  As I returned to the level above, I noted the occasional dislodged rock or scraped moss to show someone had climbed down then up.

“It wasn’t Wilks but an Orovar!  These merged with the Yellow and Black races to form the Red Race.  There aren’t any left save in Lothar and those are imaginary constructs so where did he come from?.  Someone found the body, climbed down and stripped it then continued on.”

“Captain North!  It had to be.  Who else would do that and he was in this area.”  Stroud spoke his theory and it did fill the facts.

“He is the most likely candidate.  Now I wonder what time we are?”

“Time?” Jennings refused to look at the body but perked up at my thought.

“Teleportation can be through time as well as space.  I thought we were in the present but now I wonder if we are in the past.  The Orovar are believed to have become extinct almost 400,000 years ago yet here is one.  Firearms weren’t invented until about 6,000 years ago.  Aircraft about 1,000 years ago.  Unless he comes from an isolated city that hid from the rest of the planet, we are probably in the past between six thousand and a half-million years ago.”

“Wouldn’t the weapons tell you when we are?  If I saw a knight in armor, I’d figure we were in medieval England and not the Roman times or modern times.”

“To an extent but many cities here are isolated and customs vary.  Also, how do you know that body you described wasn’t a medieval recreationist or a movie actor?  These people tend to re-use the same gear for generations.  This sword may have been made a half million years ago and passed down ever since.  Let’s try to move faster.”

Despite my wishes, I was slowed by the inability of my companions to breathe well in this atmosphere.  I had mostly adapted, there being enough usable protean in the mantilla to allow me to make more blood cells but it would take a month for the humans to do what the Demons made me able to do in days.

Hours later we heard voices around some rocks.  Peeking over, we saw North and Bar Komas in chains with a black man, two Red Men and a Red Woman.  There were six more Orovars nearby, all armed though none having revolvers.  Orovars had become extinct before the current Human Race evolved on Earth so we were probably a couple hundred thousand years ago.

“Well, nothing to do but… wait here please.”  I returned the way we came as Jennings asked, “what are you going to do?”

“Rescue them.”  I left, made a large circle and approached the slaver camp from the opposite direction.  Then loosening my blades in their sheathes, I approached.  “Koar!” I called.  The universal tongue had been developed as the Red Race evolved telepathy so these could probably understand me, despite my future and alien accent.

They looked me over, two passing me to search behind, the remaining four looking me over with the same interest my companions did for I looked like an Orovar with my brown hair but my white skin was burned and tanned and my tail, hands, feet ears eyes and antenna shocked them.   Almost two hundred years ago when I first came to Barsoom, I had seen a sword only in a museum.  I had to learn to fight with one from the beginning as a spy of sorts as I served a Toonolian Jed.  But since then I studied the blade, broadsword, rapier, foil, short sword and katana.  If it had an edge, I trained in its use and today, I would not be a match for my original teachers in Ardane but I would be good.  And when you counted my earthly strength enhanced by the Demons, I had little to fear.

“I hate to interrupt but those two men are in my service and so if you would release them, we’ll be on our way.”  I didn’t expect a positive answer for I had suffered the lash of slavers before and centuries later I still wore their stripes on my back.  But one must give the benefit in case.

They laughed and the leader approached and asked, “What are you?”  I noticed he didn’t circle me as would any other, so someone was approaching from behind and he wished to distract me.  It was the intake of breath that warned me of the intended blow.  It was probably a cudgel to render me unconscious so I drew with my left hand and jabbed backwards, feeling the point enter flesh.  I pulled my long sword free and with short sword in my right hand, blocked a slash and moved in to stab with my shorter blade.  Then I recovered, spun my long sword to proper grip and went on guard.  I was used to two blade fighting but mostly with the longer in my right hand.  No matter, I’d do what I could until I could switch hands.  I moved left then leapt over the men facing me, cleaving downward as I passed in a move I heard John Carter learned from the Plant Men of Dor, then landed, turned and slashed, opening another to the spine.  Now there were two left and both before me. 

Both looked at me, then each other then ran.  I was so shocked at this intelligent move that I forgot to pursue them.  So I called to my companions and looked for the keys to the chains holding the slaves.  Jennings just stood there, he mouth open, staring.  “What?” I asked.

“You were… you were fantastic.”

“Oh,” what else could I say?  “Do you mind helping me free the prisoners?”

She actually ran to me to help and in short order we had the chains off.  “Well, North, report if you would.”  I requested.  I could see he was wearing a waterlogged harness and blades, doubtless from the corpse he had robbed but it was as obvious that he didn’t fit into the Orovars cod-piece and was uncomfortable with the fit as he was peeking, no he had more penis working it’s way from the codpiece and hanging free from the cod than I possessed.  So I grabbed another silk and tossed it to him, “You may find this more comfortable and modest.”

The Tech, who now preferred to be called Bar Komas, started to explain as he dressed in silk and leather from a body, “We headed along the river but couldn’t see Wilks anywhere.  We passed a house and did a quick search then continued on.  After a couple hours or so, we saw a body and Captain North climbed down to check it out.  The man had apparently drowned so the Captain decided that he needed the clothes and weapons more than the dead man and took them.  Then we continued along the river looking for Wilks.  We didn’t want to loose any more time burying the dead man so we left him there.  Then we were captured by these slavers.  We both tried to fight but they easily disarmed us and we had to surrender and I even studied fencing in college.  We spent the night chained here freezing then a couple more slavers returned with this man.  And shortly after, you showed up.  How the hell did you learn to fight like that?”

“It’s my profession.  After a couple centuries, you get to be good or you get to be dead.  Any luck finding Wilks?”

“No sir.  We should keep looking,” this from North who apparently decided that I was now worthy of his respect.

“While we followed, we kept a watch on the river and saw no evidence of him so he either got free or is still down river, drowned.  We’ll continue on and keep searching.”  Then to the prisoners in Barsoomian, “I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, Jedwar Drakonis.  Who are you?”

The Black, whose skin and features was not the dark brown I was used to in Europe and Drakonis but actually black, though unlike the Negro, his hair was straight, introduced himself as Sojar.  “I am from the south but was traveling to Koal to discuss matters of importance when my thoat was injured and I was captured by these slavers.”

The Red Men who resembled those of my time added, “I am Hanno, a trader in leather.  I sought to do business with these men who immediately captured me and stole my inventory.”

The remaining introduced themselves as Vos Kar and Kara, brother and sisters who were seeking pilgrimage when they met the slavers who immediately turned on them.

“It seems,” said I, “that business with those who traffic in human lives may not be as beneficial as you all would believe.”

“Normally, we can trust them to be honest.  But times are hard and they lost most of their inventory to the Green Men so must needs make it up in any way they are able.”  Explained Hanno.  “But where do you come from?  Your companions are like no Orovar I’ve ever seen, nor are you.” 

“My companions are from Jasoom, the next world towards the sun.  I am from Drakonis which is so far from Barsoom that you cannot see it with the naked eye.  We came here by accident and are seeking a way home when one of our group fell into the river and we have been following the current hoping to find him before he drowns.”

Sojar laughed at this, “Then your search is done for this is the Mighty Iss which leads to Korus.  Just south of this point the Otz cliffs rise and there is no place to beach for dozens of haads.  If he has not reached shore by now, no one could remain afloat long enough to pass to Dor.” Sojar had, by then retrieved his weapons and gear and bidding us farewell, continued on his way north.  “Perhaps we shall meet again, though if we do, we shall undoubtedly do so with crossed blades.”

“Then, Dotar Sojar,” I called, giving him his title among his own kind, “Let us hope that when next we meet, one shall be a prisoner so that we can remain friends and not enemies.”

“You are a strange man, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis.  In a perfect world we would be friends but here, all races upon the face of Barsoom are enemies first.”  This he called over his shoulder so I responded, “But I am not from Barsoom and so may be friends with strangers.  Good Journey.”

“Bar Komas, when you are done, we should continue our search.”  He was testing each blade in turn settling on a light curved saber.  I, myself, preferred a straight blade for foot fighting as curved swords were designed for fighting from a horse at a charge.

He stood, every aspect an attempt to be a fighting man though his muscle tone was lacking and his skin remained burned, still he tried.  I would have to watch him closely for often men who read adventure stories are the same sort who read nudie magazines in the bathroom with one hand, their dreams far greater than their abilities.  North, I noticed, made no attempt to carry anything other than a short sword and dagger.  Stroud began to arm himself with every weapon he could take and I gave Jennings a belt and dagger for herself.

Vos Kar and Kara came forward, “If you don’t mind, Jason Obrien, we would like to remain under your protection as you travel south.” 

“I am not going to Dor, but seeking our companion then we turn away to seek a way home.  But you are welcome to accompany us as far as you wish.”  They agreed and after taking all that we wished from the bodies, continued on.  Kara stared at Jennings more than she did at me.  I suppose on a world where near nudity was common, seeing a woman wearing a dress that covered most of her body was stranger than seeing an alien with a tail.

We continued on for some kilometers then the hills became much more rocky and difficult to traverse, eventually it became impossible to see the river, so bad was the terrain.  I decided to return north to find the river again and try another way.  As we sat by the water, I asked my companions a few questions.  “What year is this?” the answer was incomprehensible as the Red Men each had a different calendar which was based on the reign of the current Jeddak or dynasty.

“Do you have radium revolvers?”

“Not on pilgrimage?”  Kara sounded shocked.  Of course they would be forbidden for it was necessary for the pilgrims to feed the Plant Men and White Apes or become playthings of the Therns and firearms would make that difficult.  At least now I knew we were within 6,000 years of my time.  But where did the Orovars come from?  Neither had heard of John Carter but all admitted that they came from isolated cities and knew little of the outer world.  So I sat, my feet splashing in the water thinking until Jennings sat next to me.

“You want to give up but are afraid that if you do, he could be on a rock around the bend. I’ve noticed that you twitch the end of your tail like a cat when you’re nervous or upset and it’s going wild now.”

“I think he drowned.” I replied.  “But there is still a chance he is alive and I don’t want to loose that chance.”

“How do you plan to keep on?  The cliffs are impossible to walk and we don’t have a boat.  From what I see, if he got this far, he won’t go further alive so either he made it to shore long before this or he’s drowned.  But after two days and a freezing night in the water, unless he made it to shore almost immediately, he’s dead.”

I smiled at her.  “That is what I find attractive in you, you have a brilliant mind that can see and accept the obvious.  Let’s go back.”

She gave me that same look she did when I killed the slavers then smiled and followed.

I sat on a rock and calmed myself as I observed my remaining companions.

North was just as arrogant as before.  Obviously macho, he would have made an excellent Special Operations or Marine, a fool who would leave the safety of a battleship and attack a well-defended beach with a bayonet.  He had gone from arrogant to afraid and now, clothed and armed, he had returned to thinking he was the best.  He had arraigned his harness to show off his attributes, muscles, washboard abs and his enormous pride which he made little effort to hide.  He carried a couple daggers and a short sword but had no idea of how to use the longer blade though he had probably been trained in knife-fighting.  He was also trying to hide his fear that his military training was now useless.

The tech, Bar Komas, was a fool.  He read a few fantasy books and decided to become the adventurer about which he had read.  So he took fencing and was even now practicing with his saber.  He reminded me of myself almost two hundred years ago when I first left Ireland to discover Ophir.  He could probably be trained to survive.

Jennings, well she was a brilliant scientist but here in the desert, her technical training was useless and she was intelligent enough to accept this.  She was trying to learn though, constantly asking questions about Barsoom and my world and star travel.  I tried to answer what I could without violating the Non-Interference Policy for I didn’t want to give her ideas to use when she returned to Earth.  In small numbers, we could assimilate humans and re-program them to fit in, but if they had starships of their own, they’d be a dangerous problem and the Demons solved such problems by turning planets into asteroids and stars into super-novas. 

Stroud was in shock and working his way into a deep depression.  On Earth he had deluded himself into thinking he was brilliant and desirable and vital.  He oppressed his subordinates and conned his patrons but suddenly, his world ended.  Without the state to enforce his will, without subordinates to do the real work, he was forced to accept the lie that was his life and he wasn’t doing well.   He first tried to bluff, then he retreated and now he was replacing his façade of brilliance with an armour of weapons.  He was carrying every knife, sword and axe he could and was totally unwilling to try to learn how to use any of them.  Doubtless he was running scenarios in his mind where a stupid Red man faced him and he, with logic and power of personality, defeated armies.  Unless he woke up soon, he’d go to sleep and never awaken.

Vos Kar and Kara were typical Red Men.  Both healthy and trim, he armed with swords that had seen probably centuries of use in his hands and so was more experienced than was I. She, smaller and submissive as Red Women were, carried a dagger and had an almost child-like body, especially when compared to Jennings.  A body and beautiful face that was made to inspire heroic protection in any man.  She was probably as intelligent as was Jennings but rarely had the chance to use it for here, men did the dangerous work, slaves did the drudgery and women fit in mainly as wives.  Either of them could be 50 or 700 years old, local time and both could easily pass for a Terrestrial thirty.  Vos Kar was evaluating us all, Kara was sitting there, competing with Jennings and waiting for us to lead. 

She did have one positive attribute though, she was silently laughing at North who saw her attitude as interest.  Unlike Terran females, Red Women are excellent judges of character and rarely allow their emotions to sway their judgment.  She would be polite to us all and quickly decide which of us would be best able to protect her and that would be the man she focused on, promising nothing and expecting that man to die for her.  Lust was virtually unknown to her and she would reserve her love for the man who demonstrated courage, kindness, strength and chivalry.  Terrans breed for beauty and stupidity, bedding anyone with a nice face and good line in a bar, Drakonians breed for intelligence, bedding whom we wish but breeding only with those who can hold a conversation and Barsoomians breed for honour, rejecting all who cannot keep them and their eggs alive on a dying world.

“Gather around, please,” I called as I stood upon my rock.  North would refuse to listen to me so long as he was inches taller than me so I had to force him to look up.  “Jennings and I have come to the same conclusion about Wilks.  If he drifted this far, he is dead from drowning or from exposure last night.  If he entered this canyon, we won’t find him until he reaches the Valley Dor and then he will be killed by Plant Man or White Ape.”  The Red couple stared, not understanding the English I spoke and would be shocked at my heresy for to them Dor was paradise.  Even in my time, the 22nd century, there were many who felt that John Carter lied about Dor to excuse his illegal and immoral return from heaven.  If we were before his time, then ALL would believe the lie.

“So considering our inability to follow any further, I am returning upriver to search the banks for evidence that he made it to shore and is waiting for us between here and where he fell into the river.  From then, I search for a way back to Earth.”  I turned to the brother-sister and explained in barsoomian, “Our faiths are different from yours so we do not follow your ideas of Dor and Issus.  We know the truth of Dor as I do the truth of their (I motioned to the Terrans) beliefs.  But I will not seek to convert you and if you wish to continue south, I shall wish you a good journey.  But for me, I must return north to continue to seek our lost companion and a way back to our own worlds.”

North exploded at this, “We can’t give up!  He could be waiting for us just downstream!  You’re just a coward and a lech, screwing Jennings like she was a bitch in heat and wishing we all were dead so you can have her all to yourself.  Turn back if you want but the rest are going with me!  Jennings, come here!”

A century ago I would have killed him for his attitude but age mellows.  Then Jennings spoke up, “And how, Captain, do you expect to get back to Earth?”

“That’s up to you and Dr Stroud.  You two got us here, you get us back.  I’ll keep you alive until then without that deal you made.”  He spat the latter

“I’m going with the Baron,” this was Bar Komas.  “I know when I’m better off.”  Jenings just laughed quietly, knowing that North couldn’t even keep himself alive.

I shrugged and said to him, “Do as you will.  I cannot nor will not force a man to live. You are all free to stay, go on or return with me.  If you leave me, I cease to be responsible for you.”  It was clear that North wanted to force Jennings but it was also clear from my earlier strength and swordplay that he knew that he had no chance to enforce his will by force.

As I walked north, Jennings and Bar Komas followed.  Then a moment later Kara and then her brother, she whispering to him, “We can always finish the pilgrimage later, I want to see who these aliens are.”  Stroud just stood there, then when North called, “Can you get me home?”  He replied, softly, “I believe so.  Dr Jennings made a good cup of coffee but her work wasn’t up to standard and I only kept her around for her ass.”

Jennings got angry then, but when Bar Komas laughed, she joined in and we five continued north.


I examined the shore along our side carefully and the other to the best of my ability. If Wilks made it to shore, he would probably go up-stream seeking us.  Along the trip, Bar Komas talked to the Red Couple and began to learn the language.  I could tell he was taken aback by Kara but she didn’t see in him a potential suitor, still, he’d find out or she’d shove a dagger into his lung.  Not knowing how long we’d be here, I also began language lessons though with my knowledge of English to translate, neither human had the incentive to learn as quickly as did I when I first arrived alone and naked in the Toonolian Marshes.

We reached the house long before dark but I called a halt anyway knowing that there was no safe place further on.  We collected as much thoat dung as we could along with whatever dried moss and sticks and soon had a cherry fire before which we ate our fill of mantilla, finished the gourds and nibbled on some of the rations we took from the slavers.

During our repast I learned as much as I could from the siblings about this area.  Once away from the river, it was sandy desert.  If you followed the river north, we would reach a couple small marshes and lakes and some dry washes and eventually reach the Koalian Forest from which few left for the only safe way was upon the River Iss.  There were few small cities near the river but they were few and far between and both had come from one of these smaller cities.

As for the reason for their suicide, for unknown to them, the Iss terminated not in heaven but in hell, victims for the vampiric Plant Men and the carnivorous White Apes.  Those who survived these dangers, would face the Terns, god-like priests of the Cult of Issus who used those who pilgrimaged as playthings, then when satiated, butchered and ate their fellow Red Men. 

I knew to not to attempt to dissuade them for I had met Assassins of The Old Man of the Mountain in Syria and Iraq who were convinced of the divinity of their Lord who had proven to them that he was Allah personified.  And I had met old ladies in America who ate dog food so they could turn their retirement checks over to their churches and my own family in Ireland followed the Pope without Question, even to turning the IRA from an army seeking the freedom of Ulster into a terrorist group that killed protestants.  It is near impossible to change a person’s beliefs no matter how foolish and evil they are.

Vos Kar explained their life, “We are a nation of thoat herders who are constantly in search of fresh moss and constantly fighting off those who would take our herds.  Finally, our family was killed by Green Men and we but barely escaped with our lives.  Having nothing left, we decided that the Valley Dor would welcome us in its sweet embrace so we chose to travel there and leave behind the evils of Barsoom.”

When I translated this, Bar Komas cried out, “I’ve read the novels. I know what’s down there.  You need to convince them to turn aside!”

I tried to calm him down, “Ok, it sounds stupid to me too but then, I’m a Pagan and I think the Christianity you follow sounds stupid.  Imagine the children’s crusade where orphans by the thousand traveled to the ‘Holy Land’ seeking the embrace of Christ but finding instead the whips of the slavers and death in the desert.  Yet they continued to come.  Torquemada, birthed by a Jew himself, still burned the Jews of Spain by the dozens of thousands because it made Christ happy and no one could argue with his logic.  So people with nothing to loose seeking heaven is nothing new.  They won’t listen.”

He grumbled but agreed to continue with the language lessons for the two had agreed to postpone their ‘suicide’ so long as we were interesting to them and gave their lives meaning.  The tech was totally taken in by Kara with whom he fell passionately in love for Red Women generate chivalry in man and rarely lust.

When it became too cold, we agreed to give Kara the room vacated by Stroud while Bar Komas and Vos Kor slept in the main room.  Then Jennings said her good nights and asked, “Are you coming?”

“A moment,” I replied.

“Don’t be long.”  And she slunk off with a smile.  That was so unlike the previous night when she saw herself as performing a distasteful task that I had no idea of how to react.  But I checked the shutters and doors and Kara asked, “I didn’t know you were married.  I apologize for looking at you such.”

“We’re not married, but companions.  We share a bed as a business arrangement.”  Then I said good night and entered the bedroom where Jennings was waiting, her silk draped across her as she caressed her bare leg.

“Well, this is different.” I commented as I removed my harness.

She ran her fingernail up my thigh whispering, “I’ve never met a man like you.  You are sensitive and caring and still so macho you easily killed those slavers to save people you’d rather see die but you don’t brag and still worry about us.  I’ve been dreaming of tonight all day.”


“Just shut up and come here!”

The next morning, I left her asleep and dressing in my meager harness, entered the main room to find the Red Men packing in anger.  Bar Komas was trying to get them to stop but couldn’t understand so called to me, “They’ve been like this all night.  I don’t think they liked what they heard through your door, but I don’t understand them.”

“Might I ask why you are leaving so?”

Neither would look at me.  But then Vos Kar snapped, “It isn’t right to rut like animals with someone you aren’t married to.  We cannot be a party to this.”

“They are upset at my sex-life.  I guess they are going on as before.  I suppose I confirmed their feelings about humanity.”

“Stop them!  I can’t bear to watch her die in Dor!”  He was begging me for something I could not deliver.  “If you can’t stop them, I’ll go along.  Maybe I can help out somehow.”

Jennings entered, smiling then frowned as she saw what was happening.  “You can’t go!  You’ll die.  How will you get back to Earth?”

“I never planned to go home.  I was just following until you left and I’d remain here.”

“Why?”  She had no clue.  But I saw in him myself when I first went to Africa seeking the Treasure of King Solomon’s Mines.

“What’s my name?” he asked her.

“That’s a foolish question.  Your name is…  it’s….”

“See what I mean.  To you and to every other woman I am some dork to smile at so I’ll do your homework then you forget me a moment later.  I’ve never had a girlfriend and only been on three dates in my life.  I hate Earth.”

“Your name is… it’s Bob!  See.”

“No it isn’t.  I wore a name-tag for three years on that project and you never looked at it.  Lord?  Would you please make some deal with them for me?  You know what I want.”

“I do.  When I was a school-boy, I was exactly the same.  Fat, unliked by girls, beaten by the jocks.  I understand.  I’ll do what I can for you but be aware that 90% of all adventurers die their first mission and this is your first mission.”

“Vas Kar, I cannot and will not apologize for last night for our ways are not yours and my race needs sex as yours needs food and drink lest we die.  But Bar Komas, here, fears for your safety.  Although poorly schooled in the martial arts and mostly ignorant of your world, he does know something about Barsoom and also Dor that may help save your lives.  He wishes to leave us and accompany you.  He’s a good man, though a bit of a fool at times and probably needs your protection more than you need his but if you allow him to accompany you, if you teach him your language and customs and if you postpone your trip to Dor until he can survive here alone, I think you may benefit from the experience.”

They looked at the tech and Kara smiled at him.  She’d probably never marry him but perhaps she could introduce him to someone with fewer prospects than she.  Who knows, my previous time in the Toonol Marshes I was as much a nerd and I found happiness with a slave girl.

They agreed to take him along and return to their former home for awhile and with him thanking us profusely, they left for their own lives.

“You should have stopped him.” She said to me, a tear in her eye.

“I couldn’t.  I understand him.  When I was in school, girls like you laughed at me when I tried to talk to them.  You probably laughed at him and forgot it as unimportant.”

“I wouldn’t do that!”

“You were a cheerleader in school, right!  You dated the quarterback of the football team who pushed nerds around, gathered in packs to beat them in the bathrooms and halls.  You’d get angry at his violence then still date him and neither of you changed.  And when you needed help with a paper or homework, you’d go to him and make him do the work and then laugh afterwards.  Am I right?”

“Ok, so I was beautiful and popular in school.  I dated the stars of the sports teams.  I’m not ashamed of being attractive.  But I never used dorks like…. Oh my god, I was like that!  I never realized.”  She tried to cover then, “But you don’t know what it was like for me too.  Other girls jealous and sniping me behind my back.  Boys after me only because they wanted bragging rights.  North with his pathetic attempts to seduce me, his bragging about being hung and how many women he’s screwed.  Dr Stroud wasn’t lying when he talked about my coffee, that was the only thing about me he respected.  In my entire life, you are the only man who recognized that I actually have a brain.  I can’t change being pretty any more than I can change being smart.

“Damn it!  Can’t you go after… after… after Bar Komas and bring him back?  Why can’t I remember his name?”

She was crying and so I held her and told her, “We all have our Paths set before us by the Gods.  Sometimes we choose to walk them, sometimes we follow another man’s Path and sometimes we take a machete and carve our own Path.  For the first time in his life, Steve is carving his own path and he is happy doing it.”

“That’s his name, Steve?”

“It is.  Are you hungry?  They left us some breakfast.”  I wiped a tear away with my tail and she smiled, “Later.  Be with me once more please.” 

As we reentered the bedroom, she asked, “Will they die?”

“Probably.  But if they do, it is their decision, not ours”

“Will I?’

“Not so long as I can do anything about it.  And yes, I will return you to Earth if it is possible.”

Later, she lay there, holding my weight on top of her as she whispered to herself, “Kahn, Wilks, Captain North, Dr Stroud and now Steve.  Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians,” she sang this last in a sad voice.

“Excuse me?” I asked as I lifted myself up.

She pushed my arms out and as I fell down again upon her, she explained, “It’s a children’s song.   About a group of people who vanish and die one by one until there is only one left.  I’m afraid that you will be the last Indian left.  I don’t want to die….”  She wrapped her legs around my hips and whispered, “I know how Steve feels, for the first time, I actually feel alive.  I know you are why I’m alive but somehow I feel like I still live because I am worthwhile. Because of what I do.  Teach me to live!”


It was while we were having breakfast she asked again, “Am I beautiful?  By the standards of your people I mean?  Do you think I am beautiful?”

“Does it matter?”

“To me it does.  I know you are probably used to women with tails and cat-eyes and pointed ears so I must look deformed to you but if I had a tail and pointed ears and such, would I be beautiful to you?”

“We have a saying, ‘Beauty fades but a smile is forever so marry the person behind the smile’.  To us, a smile is the mouth and sparkle in the eyes and the personality and brain behind the skin.”

“So, you don’t think I’m beautiful.  Am I hideously ugly? Do you sleep with me because you are desperate?”

I laughed at that.  How superficial these humans are.  “Yes, you have a beautiful face even by our standards.  But remember that we treasure a personality and intelligence so even if you were plain or ugly, your mind and personality would make you attractive by our standards.  Like Kara, is she beautiful?”

She remembered the Red Woman, “Her face is striking but she’s so flat chested and has no pubic hair.  Do they shave or is it natural?  I think most men would find her beautiful from the neck up.”

“By the standards of my people, you are as flat-chested.”

“Flat?  Me?  I’m a good c-cup.  And I look firmer and larger in this light gravity.”

“Among my people, girls are larger at half your age and much larger when adults.  Also, as you noticed, I don’t need to shave as do your men, nor do I have much hair on my chest.  And I am far hairier than most of us since Weir men rarely and Weir women never grow hair on face, chest, limbs or armpits.  By our standards, North, with his hairy chest and heavy beard and low IQ would be considered an ape and no clan would let their women marry him.”

She laughed then, “Funny, that’s exactly what he called you.  At least I don’t get a beard-rash when you kiss me.”

“Only I am more intelligent than a monkey but one would be hard pressed to decide which of the two, Captain North or an ape, would win a chess match.”

“So, to you I am a flat-chested, hairy, deformed amputee but you like me for my mind.  That’s a change from all the men who saw me as a body and face and stopped looking.  I like you, Jason.  You see past the superficialities of our human existence.  But you hide a lot too.  I think that it’s because you are afraid that I might be intelligent enough to understand what you say while Captain North and Dr Stroud won’t.  So, what are you going to teach me to help me survive here?  Language?  Technology?  Geography and history?  Or how to use that sword you carry? Where do we start?”

“We start with language, history, geography and sociology since all are interrelated.”  We packed our belongings into a silk bundle and slipped our arms through the knotted loops and left the house as I talked.  “Barsoom is dying.  A half-million years ago there were five major seas then they dried up and forced the three human races to build the waterways, atmosphere plant and to intermarry to produce the Red Race.  The Green Men were pushed to the deserts and became raiders and the various nations broke apart, each fighting for a small piece of the remaining resources.  But unlike Earth where you devote most of your technology to warfare, Barsoom did not.  No, Jennings, the Internet and your interstate freeways, the space program and most aircraft were developed for military applications.  Had Barsoom done that, the wars would be so terrible that all life here would be extinct.  So they made war an honourable event, limited to mostly swords, eye-to-eye, and diverted their technology towards medicine, physics and survival.”

“So they have nuclear technology that fits in the palm of their hand and they refused to make the A-Bomb because they were afraid they’d use them?”

“Something like that.  When you humans war, you go all out.  You carpet bomb civilian neighborhoods, you use nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.  You send millions of kids into battle with weapons so terrible that your children will hate you as you hate what your parents used were your schools to teach the truth of your own history.  Do that here and the waterways and the atmosphere plants would be destroyed and all life would end.  They war because it’s human nature but they limit their war to prevent total extermination.”

“And how do your people make war?” she asked.

“We turn planets into asteroid belts and stars into Novas.  We exterminate entire star systems and murder trillions in a heartbeat.  With us, war is absolute or nothing.  We don’t invade other lands but if we are attacked, we exterminate the race that attacked us.  Our philosophy is that people put and keep evil men in power so the common people are as evil as those leaders who invade and so the galaxy is better off without them.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Perhaps, but few people seek to invade us.  If you people sought to attack ours via war or economics or whatever method, we’d simply turn Earth into a ring of dust from a dozen million kilometers away and give you no chance to defend yourselves.  So, Jennings, if your people want to survive, be good and honest people.  You notice that Barsoom is still here.  They war with themselves but they are smart enough to not attack us so we let them be.”

“Your people are so bloodthirsty.  Is there any way we can be friends?”

“There is, but it all depends on you.  You know what is right.  So do the right thing and all will be well.”

“Easier said than done.”  She muttered.

“Which is why Earth was destroyed in your future, my past.  Let’s change the subject and return to Barsoom as more immediate.”  She wasn’t happy but I could estann her thinking about what I had said and how to turn me to her advantage.

“Politically, this planet is ruled by hereditary kings, Jeds, of small city-states.  When they conquer others, the king becomes an emperor, Jeddak.  So this planet is in a constant flux with nations changing almost daily in the battle for dwindling resources.  Some like Helium and Ptarth are super-powers, others like Toonol and Gathol are much smaller.  Others like Koal and Dor are isolated and almost unknown outside their own borders.

“Telepathy is common here so people are honest because when you can read a mind, you know the truth so deceit is impossible.  There is one language that is spoken by all sentient beings, even those isolated for a half million years.  We suspect telepathy keeps the language unified.  And there are many races, Human, Green, Insect and so on.  On Earth all complicated land life evolved from one species of four limbed fish that struggled to shore.  Reptile, Bird, Mammal, Amphibian, Dinosaur, they are all from that one fish.  Here there were multiple lines and isolated evolutions. That’s why you see creatures here that are ‘mammal-like’ and others that are ‘insect-like’ with others ‘reptile-like’ and so on.  That’s why you have six, eight and ten legged animals, each evolving from different ‘fish-like’ creatures that struggled to shore in an isolated area.

“Since life is dying, the numbers of species is very low.  Thoats, banths and calots are the main forms.  On Earth you’ll find hundreds of mammal species in one small area.  Here we have less than a few dozen major species across the entire planet.”

“Can you do anything to help them?” she asked, genuinely concerned.

“Non-Interference policy.  We sent a few ice-asteroids here and showed them how they could repeat the process with their own technology but they have the right to make their own decisions.  We cannot force our ways on others.  In my time, the nations are arguing as to how to use the idea we gave them.  If they work together, they will live, if they argue, they die.  But the decision is theirs.”

“You make nobility sound so wonderful, until you remember that it’s the innocent women and children who die because you refuse to interfere.”

“And do we have the right to interfere with your world?   Suppose we arrived and said, ‘no more war, everyone has 24 hours to return your soldiers home or else.’  Your country would praise us for forcing the Arabs and Cubans and Chinese to leave the nations they invaded, until you realized that you were bound by the same directive. Would your nation do that?  Would we have the right to execute the Cubans in Africa or the Chinese in Tibet but not the Americans in Iraq or the British in Ulster?  What if we burned all your laws we consider stupid and applied our more civilized laws in their place?  What if we forced your country to legalize gay marriages and force politicians and police and the rich to the same legal standards they apply to the poor? What if we took money from the rich and gave it to the poor?  Took factories from the few and gave them to the workers?  Force your people to marry outside their own race and nation?  That is how we do things back home so do we have the right to do it to you?”

She was quiet and tried to think about this.  She had been taught that her president was the ‘leader of the free world’ yet it never occurred to her to ask ‘who voted him to that position?’  She could justify or accept the US invasions of Panama, Haiti, Grenada, Vietnam, Cuba, Korea, China, Iraq and a dozen other nations but saw Cuba’s invasion of Angola or China’s invasion of Tibet as wrong. It was acceptable for her country to use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons against civilian targets but a desperate people who bombed a hotel were criminals. Custer and Washington were heroes for killing women and children in their sleep as America conquered it’s way west but Arafat was a terrorist for trying to stop Israeli bulldozers from leveling Palestinian houses with women and children still inside.  I never fail to be amazed and dismayed at the human capacity to justify their own evil yet condemn the exact same actions when performed against them.

Did she refuse to argue because she was thinking or because she still needed me?

“You said you were human once, now you say it like it was a dirty word.  What changed you into such a cynic?”

“Living through the Chicago Imperium, McCarthyism, the Holy Inquisition, the Ottoman Empire, The Tokagawa regime, Nazi Germany, The Klan in America and how Homeland Security so easily voided your Constitution with no dissent from the Supreme Court or the people they oppress.  Seeing what Custer did to the Indian children and women and how you made him a hero.  Living downwind from a concentration camp and seeing Irish children bleed to death from British police bullets who refused the child medical treatment and no one seemed to care about making the world a better place.  I saw a better way on another planet.  My people have no crime, no prisons and we war to defend against invaders only.  The Morgor, Kzinti and Shitai have invaded us and we fight them back but we never invaded them.  There is no Vietnam in our history.  And if we can do that, why can you not follow?”  Now I was getting angry so left her behind to be alone with my thoughts.  No, to repress my thoughts.  Humans would destroy their world soon and do it while claiming it was for their own good.  In my time the top of the Terran food pyramid was the carnivorous predatory cockroach because humanity was extinct from war, disease and the terminator robots that Jennifer released to cleanse humanity of inferior races and religions only to find that she and her own nation and church were considered inferior by the very standards that they chose to impose.

Shortly after I saw something in the distance and pulled Jennings to cover.  “It’s beautiful,” she whispered as the flier approached and landed near the house we had recently vacated.  It was squat and heavy and obviously made for cargo which was demonstrated when three white men with blonde hair left the craft carrying a stack of light canoes.  These they placed in a row on the stone dock, then they searched the dwelling and removed the two meter Long-Swords we had left behind.  Jennings started to stand but I pulled her back.  Then after looking around, the flier lifted off and flew low across the desert away from the river.  I stood and with the Spy-glass I had taken from the Green man I killed we watched them turn north and fade away.

“Jennings, those were the Gods of Mars.  Therns.  They are descended from the brown-haired White-Skinned Orovars you saw before only these are totally bald, everywhere, and wear blonde wigs.  They encourage pilgrimages down this river and take as slaves anyone who survives the journey.  And when they are done with their slaves, they kill and eat them.  Doubtless, these are leaving those boats along the river to facilitate travel into their domains.”

“Then why fly away from the river and not along it?”

“I imagine, but am not certain, that they don’t want to be seen so as no one travels that desert, they can travel north, undetected, until they reach the next rest-house, then turn river-ward.  Had we seen them, they would have killed me as an alien or captured me as a curiosity.  You, they would have seen as a deformed Thern who degraded herself with a lower being and so killed you on the spot.  We need to be certain that we avoid their sight.”

Now that I had seen fliers, I knew we were within 900 years of my time for air travel wasn’t perfected until about then.  But the Therns were still assisting the pilgrimages so we could be before the time when John Carter sought to destroy the Thern religion.   Many thought he had succeeded as Therns were often seen as Panthans across the planet and the pilgrimages had ended.  But Florina, my Slave-girl lover in Toonol was still a devout follower of Issus and that was more than two centuries after John Carter.  I still had the problem of contacting my people for rescue but the better I could determine our exact Quae, the easier that would be.  I’d have to think about time-placing com-links all over Terra and Barsoom and a few other worlds so we would always have a way home. 

We would also have to ensure that no one saw us as refugees from pilgrimage for those were killed horribly as apostates and I had seen what religious fanatics do to those they deem as ‘unholy’.

Jennings was prattling now, overcome with a lust I wish she had expressed last night.  “That aircraft was beautiful!  How does it lift without wings or rotors?  It’s too small and rigid to use helium as a lifting source.  And those propellers must be attached to an engine but it was silent.  Is that another aspect of their nuclear technology?  Can we follow them? I’d give anything for an hour inside that aircraft’s engine room.”

This was dangerous.  Stroud wouldn’t understand anything of Barsoomian technology but Jennings and the tech would.  The tech was remaining here so no danger but if Jennings learned anything of Barsoomian technology, she’d easily change the face of her own world.

“I think the Therns built those houses as rest-areas along the pilgrimage route.  They don’t want their dinner too stringy and tough from the journey.”  And I led her away as she looked at me with such disgust.  “Do they really EAT people?” she asked.

“We eat animals and you have no trouble defining dogs, shrimp, dolphin, blacks or red Indians as ‘animals’ to justify your use so why should the Therns be any different?  They see themselves as gods and we as their playthings.  We need to avoid them because unlike the Orovars I killed, the Therns and Black Pirates actually know how to fight with a sword.”

Note:  arrived about 35degrees south, close to the Otz Mts.

For days we headed north along the river for my former life here had been mostly in the Toonol Marshes and so I knew that if we followed the Iss far enough, we’d end up there.  I stuck a stick in the ground and marked it’s shadow then guestimated the angle between the mark closest to the stick and the ground and explained, “I believe we are about 35 degrees south.  35 degrees because of the shadow at noon, south because the Iss starts in the north about 25 degrees then flows south.  Since Barsoom has no magnetic field to speak of, I am taking the river flow as a direction indicator and combined with the rising and setting sun, I am certain that we are heading north.”

I glanced to the east, “I know little about this part of the planet but I think that we are in the middle of The Great Desert and there is no water for hundreds of kilometers until you reach Torquas.  So we stay along the river and rest in the Thern buildings.”

“Those dunes look like the ones near Yuma only these are red.  It’s so much like home but so alien.” She commented.


“Yuma City in Arizona.  It’s next to the Sand Hills in California where they filmed all those Foreign Legion movies.  Eddie and I used to go there and ride our dirt bikes.”

I didn’t like the way this was going for it made us both look bad but had to suggest, “Incidentally, considering Kara’s and Vos Kar’s attitudes, when around Red Men, it may be best for them to think we are married.  You don’t have to admit it, just allow them to think what they will.”

“I can do that.  You’re afraid that I may stumble across some technology aren’t you?”

“I am.  You are smart enough to understand it and I cannot have that information reach Earth.”

“So, what happens to me if I do learn something?”

“Not much, I’ll probably hypnotize you into repressing the technical information.  You’ll remember everything but the workings of a Flier for such will be blurry in your mind.”

“I was afraid that you’d kill me.”

I laughed at that.  “Kill you?  Whatever for?  We don’t kill to keep our secrets, just to protect our lives and families.  Besides, we still have that agreement where I return you alive and safe to Earth.”

“Good!  I was almost worried.  And to tell the truth, I’ve been looking over every device we have every chance I had.  Some of it I can understand, some not yet.  I almost feel like an ancient Greek trying to make sense of a Porche.”  Then she touched me, held my hand and asked, “What if I don’t want to return?”

“And your options being?”

“I haven’t seen the cities yet but maybe here in a lab, maybe your world.  You have some authority, would you sponsor me like an artist only with technology?”

I kissed her and laughed, “I believe I would.  Most of our technicians spend their time trying to adapt Demon or S’Kree technology to our uses.  I have a basement of junk from the S’Kree that I can’t figure out how to operate.  And we are just one nation.  The Commonwealth is a high-tech association of a dozen star-empires.  I left Kos because I couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights in my apartment off.  Drakonis technology, as advanced as it is, is easier to understand.”

“Good, then let’s hold off where you are taking me for awhile and just enjoy the hike.”


The travel was actually pleasant though once Jennings was safe, I’d leave to recover North, Stroud and Steve.  She may have released me from protecting them, but I did not and would not abandon them if I could save them.

The second day we ran into a banth.  The thing roared and rushed us as would its Terran counterpart, from zero to a full charge instantly.  Having no time to draw steel, assuming that I could kill it with a sword, I grabbed Jennings and threw her as far as I could towards the river bank, hoping that the moss would cushion her fall and she would climb down to the water and relative safety.  The banth acted as they all do, and chased her simply because their instincts were to pursue prey that fled, giving me a chance to draw and slash, damaging it’s hind legs as it turned.   Feeling the pain, it turned to me again and almost swiped me as I jumped over its head, slashing downward as I passed.

Now it was mainly a fight to see who tired first, the banth from constant spinning as it lost blood from it’s damaged rear legs as I leapt over it, slashing as I passed, or me for leaping.  Now I’m strong, easily twice to thrice as strong as a human and in this gravity, it took little effort to leap.  But every leap ended with a second leap then a spin and leap backwards and the banth was getting closer.  It wasn’t a jumper, for it’s ten legs were made to run and chase down a thoat so the constant turning was wearing it down.  Hopefully fast.

Then I had an idea.  Instead of leaping, I turned and ran to the river, the banth in pursuit and closing all the while.  I could even feel it’s hot breath on my tail when I reached the bank and jumped!  I take no credit for my leap for terror made me do it.  I can easily jump nine meters and reach ten when I train so with this .38 gravity, I should be able to do 30 meters or more.

The opposite bank was between 20-30 meters and I slammed into the side, frantically grabbing for purchase with hands, feet and tail.  Banths are not jumpers so when I was secure, I turned around and saw the beast in the water, panicking as the current pulled it south.  Like most Barsoomian animals, banths cannot swim.

Jennings was on the other side screaming at me so I waved then climbed to shore and yelled back, “On the bank, we’ll head north until the river narrows enough for me to jump back.  I don’t think I can make it right now,” and I collapsed from exhaustion.

A few kilometers further I came across another rest-house with boats on the stone wharf.  Only this one was occupied and on my side.  There were four of them, all Red Men, all armed with steel but no firearms and three were eating field rations while the fourth nervously cleaned and sharpened his longsword.  This one started and went on guard as I entered, the rest glanced casually in my direction then started as they realized that they faced an alien in Red Man’s harness.

“What in the Name of Issus are you?” one asked. Fortunately not drawing his sword.

I glanced around and noted that these had the look of the lower classes, panthans who had seen too many centuries of war and had lost their illusions of glory so had decided to make the last pilgrimage to heaven.  Men like this wouldn’t hesitate to kill me and would forget that I had existed five xats later.

I kept my hands away from my hilts hoping that if they rushed me, they would do so one at a time and give me a chance.  One I could kill, two I could survive but three would probably win.  “Koar!  I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis. My companion is trapped on the other side of the river and I would appreciate any help you can give me and tell me where we are for we became lost some days ago.”

They spread out with the one still carrying his longsword the others ready to draw but still casual.  One looked across the river through a window and commented, “There is a Holy Thern woman across the river.  She’s wrapped in silk as if she were freezing.”  The outside temperature was warm by human standards, hot by Red Man’s but they couldn’t understand the idea of modesty so saw her sarong as being to keep her warm only.

“I am her protector,” I offered thinking that this was the best course to follow.

“A moorouk guarding a Holy Thern?  What wonders will we see on this river?”

“I think we should kill him and take his skin and tail to Issus.” Said the one cleaning his sword.  The others just looked at him like he was an idiot.  Their leader touched his head and nodded to the man and looking closer I saw a jagged scar along his temple that implied a sword cut that probably did some real damage within.

“Does anyone have a rope here?  I can toss it across the river, have my companion tie it off then we can take a canoe across to fetch her.”

The one who was their leader agreed and collected ropes from each of his men, tied them together and led me to the wharf where he said, “Tie your sword to the end of the rope and throw it across to the Thern since you are the strongest of us.  She can drive the blade into the ground to tie off the rope and Kovan here, being the lightest, will pull the canoe to her and bring her back to you.”

It seemed like a good plan so I tied the rope to my handle and called for them to ‘stand back’ as I swung my blade in a circle to build up momentum.  Then I released and it flew across the river to land on the opposite shore.  Jennings quickly ran up and stabbed the thing into the ground between rocks and held on as we tied off our side.  Then Kovan climbed into a canoe and holding on to the rope, pulled himself across the stream fighting the gentle currant.  Once there, Jennings entered the canoe and Kovan pulled himself back. 

“Thank you, I appreciate the assistance,” I said to which their leader said, “Think naught of it, but help your charge to shore for it would be unseemly for low-born panthans like us to touch a Thern.”

I leaned over to take her hand then felt a push from behind and into the freezing waters I fell.  Betrayed by those men, I didn’t know what hurt more, the cold water, the fact that I am a poor swimmer, the fact that I was suffering the same fate as Wilks who I abandoned or my own stupidity.

“Moorouk,” he called to me as I fought to remain on the surface.  “Seek us north in the slave markets for you are that creature that killed the Orovar slavers some days ago and so she cannot be a Thern.   When you arrive, sell yourself for none will allow you entry into their city and thus only will you see your companion.”  Laughter followed and I saw him try to kiss her, only to be struck near senseless for even a woman is stronger than a Red Man if that woman has the muscles needed to move about on Earth’s greater gravity.

After that I had to fight the current and the cold for the Demons created my body for space travel, not water life else they’d have given me gills and webbed feet and as I said, I am a poor swimmer.

Finally I managed to reach shore and after gasping for breath for what seemed like hours, I built a couple small fires between the rocks to warm myself for I was near freezing and would catch pneumonia fast if I didn’t warm up.

I was stupid!  There is no way to avoid that.  Despite an IQ that is astronomical compared to humans, I was taken in by the desire to believe that people were good.  Now I had lost my long-sword and was freezing and my charge had been kidnapped and all I had to go on was a short sword, a dagger and a vague remark to head north.  I didn’t even know if that were the truth or not for only a fool tells an enemy where to find them.  Especially an enemy who was stronger than they and could kill them easily.

So I ate an ulsio that I caught peeking between the rocks and realized why no one ever ate them before.  Their flesh was rank and I could barely choke down a few bites before I flung the remainder into the river.  Then I vomited and spent the night in the cold trying to absorb as much heat as I could from my fires and the rocks.


The next morning I was feeling sick but from the cold river, the night or the ulsio I couldn’t say so I finished what food I had in my pack; slung my empty long-sword scabbard onto my back and with short-sword and dagger, ran to the north feeling that on foot or thoat, those who had taken Jennings had no choice but to travel in that direction.  Soon I reached the rest-house where my ignomity had occurred and a quick search revealed nothing of value.  Since the current flowed south and the canoes were powered by paddle, I had to leave them and continue north for even my long-sword was missing from the bank.

By noon I was burning up and soon after began to cough up reddish slime which indicated pneumonia.  Sad how I had faced monsters on a dozen worlds, most larger than myself and yet a bacteria smaller than a cell, one that probably lived inside me for years with no effect, was now taking me down as if I were a child.

Running after the Red Men and Jennings, I would have to stop every kilometer or so and fall to the ground and cough until I could breathe again.  What the ocher moss thought of my mucus that I left on it I hated to think.  Fortunately, I believed from the literature that the Barsoomian organisms were hardier than the Terrestrial and so I wouldn’t be destroying an entire world with a cough as Cavor did to the Selenites in Well’s novel First Men in the Moon or how the Martian invasions had ended in War of the Worlds.   Since Humans had been visiting Barsoom for years, possibly millennia, the Red Planet had ample time to prove their hardiness and a biota adapted to surviving a dying planet would be hard to kill so easily.

Once I came across a couple four meter Green Men and rather than hide, I attacked instantly, killing one as I leapt to his chest and drove my Shortsword into his body.  The other had time to respond and I remember little of that fight other then managing to roll under his swing, hamstring him to bring him down to my level where I was finally able to get inside his point and hack away with my shorter blade which was but a dagger to him.

When I could think again, and breathe, I crawled to the bodies and stripped them of both food, mantilla milk and whatever medications I could find.  The anti-biotics I found, I mixed with river water filtered through multiple layers of silk until they were fluid, and then breathed them into my lungs figuring that I’d either drown or choke and choke I did.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious but an ulsio was nibbling at the vomit on my chest and I had to crush it to stop it for the thing refused to be spooked by movement.  Fortunately, enough of the Green Man’s medicines had penetrated my lungs to initiate healing and then I was able to treat my cuts which I don’t remember receiving.  I ate more of their food and tried to not think of how I had murdered two men for their medical kits.

As soon as I had eaten everything they had, I choose one of their short-swords to replace my long-sword and taking everything else of value, continued on at a much slower pace.  The ulsios came forward to feast as I left.

I couldn’t run but I did move on and knew that weak as I was, it would be days before I healed totally and my superior strength, the only real advantage I possessed, was now missing.  Occasionally, I would mix more anti-biotics with water, shake it to form a froth and inhale it as best I could.  Each of these brought on a fit of coughing and near unconsciousness but by the end of the day, what I coughed up was no longer red but clear.  Well, it was better than when I was on Kentaurus being chased by the Kris and had to cut myself open with a bayonet to remove some alien parasite that had bored through my belly to grow inside me.  You do what you have to and at times like this I wish I had been smart enough to settle down with that woman my family wanted me to marry and grow roses and raise sheep and never have left Ireland.

They had a lead on me and despite all I did, I couldn’t catch up.   I could see places where Jennings had left me signs as to her direction and occasional torn moss to indicate she had fought to slow them but still they remained ahead of me.

Finally I saw hills in the distance and leaving the river to follow in the desert, realized that this was another impact crater from which flowed the Iss River.  No, not from, through for the Iss originated in the Toonol Marsh a quarter of the planet away.  This would be a good trap where the river passes through the crater after wearing a narrow cut in the rim.

Red Men are poor climbers, few mountains being as high as a kilometer save the snow-capped Artolians which extend above the breathable atmosphere, so I approached the cut from the desert and carefully climbed high before moving to the river.  Looking down I saw two Red Men watching from cover and I was glad that my paranoia had kicked in for though visible from above, they were hidden from the ground and I would have walked into a trap. 

I couldn’t be certain that I could kill them both so climbed over the rim to look inside the valley which was actually an impact crater kilometers across and what I saw astounded me.  I had to sit there, catch my breath and stare at the beauty before me.  The asteroid that formed this crater had penetrated the crust and lava had welled forth to give a mostly level floor.  The fertile lava watered by the Iss which meandered through had created an oasis in the Great Desert.   A number of streams, some dry others running fed the Iss from the rim of the crater where the moisture-laden high winds lost their water on the rim of the crater.  The Iss and these streams formed a ribbon of marsh from the northwest to the southeast but beyond this marsh, invisible to anyone following the river by foot or canoe, were well-irrigated croplands.  Against all custom and religious law, a city had been formed in the crater rim and the inhabitants had given up their pilgrimage to settle in this place, raise crops and live a life of ease totally unknown to the rest of Barsoom.  To the east was one small city and herds of grazing thoats.  To the west another small city and this was near ground that was mostly farmlands.  Both cities were difficult to see for both were dug into the crater rim and those buildings I could see were camoflauged to blend into the terrain.  Doubtless the eastern side was higher, dryer and had poorer soil, thus encouraging ranching while the lower western half was richer and wetter to encourage farming.  Now a number of questions flowed through my mind as I watched the valley through the spyglass I had taken from the Green Man I had killed.  Were these two cities at war or were they in a symbiotic relationship?  Were the inhabitants Orovars or Red Men?  Did the Therns know about this?  And mainly, were the men who had taken Jennings from here?

The last I believed to be true for they had set an ambush and you don’t do that if you are continuing to travel unless you are afraid of a superior following force.  Thus the Red Men must live here and probably had Jennings prisoner in one of these two cities.  So which one?

Then men who had taken Jennings were on foot which implies a lack of thoats which lived in abundance on the eastern side of the valley thus they probably lived to the west.  But I was on the eastern side of the rim and would have to climb down and find a way across the Iss or through the marsh. A coughing fit made my decision for me so I hid for awhile, hoping I was unnoticed, then when strong enough, proceeded along the crater ridge to the eastern city.

Again, I spent the night in a hollow I found, banking my small fires to provide warmth but little light and shivered beneath the silks and furs that once had warmed olive bodies. 

In the morning, I cooked and ate a lizard that was warming itself next to my coals and finding a small mantilla, filled my stomach and continued on.  I found the first guard shortly after noon.

He was careless else he would have seen me before I saw him so I crept forward until I could observe him and saw that this valley had little fear of invaders.  Like all Red Men he was armed but still no firearms and his weapons he kept out of his way and so also out of easy reach.

I was about to rush forward and attempt to capture him for information when I noticed a whiteish rock nearby.  Rocks on Barsoom contain a massive amount of iron from the meterorite impacts and unlike Earth where the iron produces a molten core to generate a magnetic field and the Van Allen belts, on Barsoom the iron is trapped on the surface and mixed with the ancient oceans to form rust.  These rusty rocks combined with the ochre moss which like much of the vegetation on Barsoom, evolved from red-algae is what gives the Red Planet it’s name.  So a white rock was disconcerting.  When I looked directly at it, it faded away but glowed with IR heat.  All rocks that are exposed to the sunlight glow with IR but as a human can tell the difference between red and pink, Weir can tell the difference between heat radiated by a living being and that by a camp-fire and that absorbed by rock or metal and this was living heat.

The Red Man turned away and the rock moved forward then settled again.  A White Ape covered with dust as a form of camoflague was stalking its prey.  Unlike the Apt which is a rush-and-grab hunter in the open snows, the White Ape prefers to hunt among the trees or rocks or buildings where it can sneak up on it’s prey then grab it with its four arms.  Everything on Barsoom is intelligent and I had to force myself to remember this for even though it’s head resembled that of an Earthly gorilla, within that five meter tall body was a brain that equaled many of Earth’s politicians in it’s deviousness and cruelty. 

I saw it lift a stone to throw and saw the wooden cudgel in its middle arm and wondered why this fool wasn’t more on guard with monsters like that hunting the hills.

My decision made for me I jumped and yelled a warning and the ape’s stone went wild. It screamed in frustration and attacked, rearing to its full height and raising its club in anger.

The Red Man fumbled for his sword and I drew and charged also, the Ape to the Red Man and me to the ape though had my brain not been fuzzy with my sickness and the lack of decent air at this height, I would have let the beast have it’s dinner and snuck past safely.

Without firearms the fight was a nightmare and we survived only because the ape was forced to spin around to turn to both of us and when it faced me the Red man attacked, then as it turned to the Red man, I attacked.  Even with full strength, the fight would have been even but weakened as I was, by the time the ape was dead, we both were near to joining it and feeding the scavengers.  So, panting and bleeding like butchered hogs, we lay there trying to not die as the Red Man and I tore silks and bandaged the worst of each other’s wounds.

When we decided that we would live, for now, we crawled to his post and he offered me a canteen of water and mantilla milk, both of which I drank eagerly.  Then he looked me over and said, “By Isis, I first thought you were some demon from Dor come to punish us for our apostasy, but now I see by your wounds that you are as human as am I.” He tried to laugh, “Barring your tail and other differences that is.  Where do you come from?   Some other hidden valley or are you one of Nolan Ghal’s experiments gone wild?”

It took me a few moments to catch my breath for as low as this crater was, it was still high enough to thin the atmosphere which was very thin on Barsoom and although I had adapted to the thin surface level air, here at a thousand feet, the air was as thin as a mile or more on Earth.  “I don’t know who Nolan Ghal is but I originally came from Jasoom but was changed into what you see here by an alien race from another star.  I’m seeking a woman of Jasoom who was kidnapped from the Iss by people who brought her here.”

“So, it appears that Nolan Ghal isn’t the only one with insane plans.  He is a scientist of the like of Ras Thavas or Fal Sivas but most see him as mad.  But then,” he laughed, “aren’t all scientists insane?  Always trying to save a world that is better off dead by doing acts that any sane man would call criminal.”

I didn’t want to argue with the man but I have noticed that far too many scientists are so focused on their goal they forget about the ethics of reaching that goal.  So instead, “I note from here that the valley is divided by the Iss into farm and grazing.  How did you settle here and why two cities?”

“Heaven’s Gate,” he explained though he called it the ‘Entrance to Dor’, “was founded some thousands of years ago by a group of pilgrims who were stranded here when the marsh dried a bit.  That happens occasionally during major droughts.  But instead of fighting their way along the muddy Iss, they sought higher and drier ground and discovered this valley.  At first our ancestors were farmers in the west where the land is richer and moister from the run-off from the marsh.  Then as the herds of thoats increased, for there are no calots or banths to hunt them, two brothers of the Jed argued and fought over some trivial matter and then each separated, the one brother leaving with his followers for the eastern side of the valley and proclaiming himself Jed of the East.

“Although we are not at war, neither are we as friendly as we once were.  But we need crops and they need meat and so we trade.  We have spies at both ends of the valley where the Iss enters and leaves and when pilgrims approach, we leave the marsh and river that the pilgrims think this place a marsh and uninhabitable.  Then when the pilgrims leave, we cross to trade and raid.  My task here is to watch the Great Desert for signs of Green Men though to be honest, not even the hardiest of the Hoards can survive the Great Desert and none can climb the hills so this duty is easy and I mostly sleep.”

“Doubtless,” I commented, “why the White Ape managed to approach so closely.”

He laughed and slapped my knee in jest, “Doubtless!  I shall have to sleep less and watch more in the future.  You said you were chasing a woman of Jasoom? I heard from the occasional slave we take from the river that a Jasoomian named John Carter forbade the Pilgrimage some years ago.  Since then, though they continue, not in the numbers as before.  Know you if this is true?”

“I never met John Carter for we came from different nations but the story is true.  John Carter visited Dor, killed the Goddess Issus and revealed Dor as far from heaven.  With Dor discredited, the Therns sought other occupations though it appears that some people retain their old faith and so some Therns continue as priests though I know not who plays Issus now.”

Rather than becoming angry with my heresy he thought a moment and offered, “This valley was first inhabited by those who lost their faith.  Most of the new citizens and slaves are the same, those who turned away in fear so we believe, but without the fanaticism of others.  Still, you had best keep your thoughts and knowledge to yourself if you would survive here.”

“Done!” I laughed, offering him his canteen, “Now, those who took my companion, who has white skin and natural long blonde hair and not a wig, were afoot.  They called for me to seek her in the slave markets to the north but set an ambush where the Iss leaves your valley.  Perhaps they live here?”

“Sounds like the followers of the Jed of the West.  Those people are quite stupid as befits men who eat mostly plants like a thoat.  Were they from my city, they would have sent you across the desert and been on thoat-back.  I would suggest that you seek her there,” he pointed to the other city.  “We have rafts hidden in the marsh at shallow and narrow points so mayhaps you can borrow one and cross.’

“What of you?” I asked.

“I’ll roll the body over the cliff and return to my napping.”

I left him there thinking that perhaps those who ate mostly meat were not as intelligent as they would think.  But if the farmers were dumber, my job would be easy indeed.  Personally, I would rather have helped him to his city where we could have our wounds tended to and make friends but it was obvious that I was alone.  Perhaps I could steal a couple thoats when we left to make our journey easier?

Once away, I renewed the healing salve from the Green Men, ate some more rations to allow my body to rebuild and moved slowly down the cliffs to the pastures.

I soon found a dry stream-bed which I followed as the easiest path and whenever I saw a herder, I waved and the very confidence I expressed caused them to wave back and ignore me.  I had done that once before in Ireland.  I walked into a British military camp waving and acting as if I belonged there and was passed and ignored by every soldier I met.

Finally I reached the marsh and found some stepping stones that made a walk that was only a few centimeters under the water.  By carefully poking with a stick, I could follow the path though those who built it probably had memorized the way and so could go faster.  But aside from the usual vermin that inhabits a swamp, I was mostly ignored and the few bug-bites I suffered soon ended as the insects found my biology unpalatable and their telepathy spread the word to their fellows.  Thus I was soon enough within the reeds where I found a number of rafts and canoes tied to trees.  I hoped that these were a common use for the rafts would take thoats west and produce east and the canoes, stolen from the Therns, were for one to six men and could be messengers, fishermen or simply visitors from the one side to the other.

So taking one, I poled then paddled across the marsh, then across the clear water which was the Iss.  Once in the river itself, I could see the banks were well hidden by the reeds and marsh trees and ceased to wonder why no other pilgrims invaded this paradise. 

Once across, I tied the canoe to a tree, found the underwater walk and proceeded west until I slipped in some slime and near sprained myself as one leg remained on the path and the other went into the muck.  Then pain! and fire! As something latched onto my right calf.  I pulled myself free to find a serpent holding on between knee and ankle and with a single chop of my short-sword, removed the body from its head.  The head continued to chew and I had to lean against a tree, slide my dagger into its mouth and cut it in twain at the jaw.  Then I was able to pull the separate parts from my leg, both jaws containing two fangs that were buried into my flesh.

The wounds burned like fire and I used the last of my water to wash the bites, them smeared the remainder of my healing salve on them and moved to shore, trying to not get excited.  From the pain and the swelling, I knew the thing was poisonous and hoped to find aid before it killed me.

Damn! My last visit here I spent years as a spy and left with little more than a few scratches.  Now my only wish was to get my charges off-world safe and every time I turned around, something came near to killing me.  Then I think I passed out.


Nightmares haunted me.  My dead wife and children berating me for deserting them when they needed me.  My living children crying in my absence though they were both adults.  Wilks, bloated and rising from the Iss blaming me for his death.

I woke up to find an angel caring for me, her blonde tresses caressing my wounds and easing the pain.

Then I choked.  “Careful,” she said.  “Small bites and chew carefully.  Oh, you’re awake again.  How do you feel?”

I forced my eyes open and saw Jennings.   “I hurt.”  She fed me another spoon of soup.

“You’re lucky.  Those marsh snakes aren’t usually that dangerous.  But your leg swelled up three times normal and turned black and they were afraid that they’d have to amputate.”

“How long?” I managed to ask.

“More than two weeks.  Some farmers found you and brought you here to Nolan Ghal who… well he eventually took enough interest to save you.  The first week you were in a coma I think.  Then you were delirious and the past few days you slipped in and out. I hope you remain awake this time.” She looked around, “I need you well!” she whispered.

I moved her hair aside and saw she was naked save for a collar.

“What happened to you?”

“After they pushed you into the river, they tied me up and brought me here.  I tried to fight and leave a trail but then here, I think some thought me a Goddess because of my white skin and blonde hair and inability to speak their language.  The others saw me as a defrocked Thern and they argued over what to do.  Then they brought you in and I forced them to save you.  I guess my concern tipped the balance for a Goddess would have just healed you with a touch I guess.  Finally they were about to lynch me when Nolan Ghal took me away.  He …” she stiffened and continued.  “He’s some sort of mad scientist who does medical experiments, breeding better crops and livestock but he also .. he does things to people too.  I’m scared.”

“What did he do to you?”

“Jason, I am not some doe-eyed virgin who swoons at the first pass made by some creep who thinks with his zipper.  I did what I had to with you to stay alive and I did what I had to here to stay alive.  I won’t tell Eddie abut you so don’t ask questions either.”

“Fair enough.  Just tell me who to kill and I won’t ask why.”  Somehow I wanted to know but tried to respect her wishes though my hands ached for the feel of my blade as I cut my way through those men.

“Nolan Ghal is waiting for you to recover enough for him to experiment.  He thinks you are still comatose and I’ll keep him ignorant as long as I can.  I need to change your dressing.  You don’t want to see.”

“Ellen,” it was the first time I used her first name, “I’ve seen people sucked through an airlock puncture your thumb would plug. I’ve held men as they died from legs blown off.  I think I can… oh… maybe not.”  Four holes some three centimeters across and a centimeter deep, each ringed with blackened tissue and swollen red with red and black lines following the veins up and down marked my leg.

“It was worse when they brought you in.  I convinced them to not amputate.”

“I suppose then I owe you my life and mobility.”

She smiled and offered, “How many times did you save me?  Eat, get well and let’s get out of this nightmare.”

“Ok, here’s the plan.  My body will regenerate even a lost leg, eventually.  The more food I eat, the faster I will regenerate.  The more sex I get, the faster that material will be assimilated and the faster I repair.” I glanced over the leg, tried to move it with no success but I was able to make a weak fist with my toes and tarsial thumb.  The rest of my body ached but worked.  “I’ve suffered worse so maybe another week with food alone.  Half that with passion.  Can you get me my weapons?”

“Can you even function that way?”

“You’ll have to do most of the work but yes, I can.”

“Yes, I can see,” she was caressing and noticed the other swelling.  “I’ll never understand how you men can want sex when you are so badly injured.  I can catch the flu and loose all interest.”    She ran and locked the door then replaced my bandages, “I’ll try to be careful of your leg.”

It didn’t last as long as it should have but I felt much better afterwards as I held her in my lap.  “At least I don’t have to rush out and into my clothes.” She laughed.

I looked into her eyes, “Weapons?”

“No.  I can’t. They watch us too closely.”

“Then I’ll figure something else out.  Don’t get into trouble and return as often as you can with food and… yourself.”

She left and I began to relax, breath slowly and visualize my right leg matching my left.  I was still thus occupied when she returned and locked the door.  “Are you ok?”

I woke up, “fine.  Just focusing on healing.  Tell me what’s happening as I eat.” And I stuffed myself with everything she brought which was mostly mantilla milk, Usa and some reptile meat which I could digest easily.  “This is all that I could steal and that only because no one wants this crap so it isn’t watched.”

“It will do.  Tell me the situation, please.”

“As near as I can tell, this city was founded by people who were on a religious pilgrimage but turned away. So they are very religious, probably because of guilt.  That’s why they thought I was a Thern and why they got so angry when they found out I wasn’t.  The local king is insanely jealous of his power and there is a struggle between him and Nolan Ghal who is some sort of biologist.  Ghal is supposed to make better crops and livestock but is obsessed with creating better people who can live in the desert when the air and water runs out.  Most of the slaves who are captured on the river go to him for his experiments.  Jason, I saw him do things that even Mengela wouldn’t do.  The man is insane.”

I commented as I munched on a piece of usa, “Consider that your own American scientists decided to infect black people with syphilis just to see how it would kill a population.  They started out trying to learn something then went further and further into Mengele’s territory, one step at a time.  None were ever punished for their crimes despite the hundreds of people they murdered and that was only over a few decades.  Consider what those doctors would be doing were they to live for centuries?  Nolan Ghal is so evil and insane only because he is older than the ones on Earth and has had more time to walk the path to damnation.  So Nolan Ghal and the Jed are at odds.  This may be useful.  We seem to be underground, what about exits?  And guards?”

“Most of this city is underground.  I think it’s to hide from aircraft or something or maybe to just allow more land for farming.  I don’t know.  But the only entrances are into the valley and they are heavily guarded.”

“Can you climb a cliff?”

“Easily.  Eddie and I used to go rapelling and climbing but I don’t have any gear.”

“No need.  Red Men cannot swim and are poor climbers so a gentle slope will slow them.  If we can get outside, we can either swim across the Iss or climb the cliffs which gives us two options.  See what you can learn about the layout so you can lead me to the exits.”

“What about weapons?”

I laughed at this.  “Everyone here is armed.  And I am an excellent guerilla fighter.  Getting weapons will be easy.”  I didn’t want her to know how difficult it would be to kill an armed Red man as weak as I was so I pretended indifference to the danger.  Then when stuffed, I called, “Come here Ellen, time to enforce healing.”

Later, as I held her she looked into my eyes and said, “Outside your eyes were narrow slits and milky.  Here they are round and mostly pupil like a cat  It’s strange looking at them.”  Then, “I can’t get pregnant.”

“Is that a comment or a request?”

“I don’t dare get pregnant.  I couldn’t… I can hide what we are doing from Eddie but not if I go home pregnant or with a baby.  Especially one that isn’t human”   She was near tears.

“Ellen,” I kissed her on the nose, “I’m functionally sterile.  I cannot make babies unless we both want one.  It’s something the Demons added to prevent their starships from being overrun with children.”

“What about.. the Red Men?”

This was what she didn’t want me to know.  “Red Men are descended from human stock we think.  But the last half-million years and their shift to egg-laying changed their DNA too much so human and Barsoomian are non-fertile.  The only cases on record are some Apache woman whose DNA was changed by Ras Thavas so she could have a child by the Jeddak she married.  And that change survived to her granddaughter who married John Carter, and then, only for a few children with most of their eggs being sterile.  You are safe there.”   I knew that rape was unknown on Barsoom but slaves were expected to submit to their masters sexually and so wasn’t seen as forced intercourse.  But still…

“They stopped, … they left me alone when my period started.  They never saw anything like that and it disgusted and scared them.  I’ve been stealing blood from Ghal’s lab and faking it but they will eventually figure it out and then..  Ghal does things that… The man is a pervert!”  she spat the last out which made me determined that he would not live much longer.

“Women here wear cosmetics as on Earth and some may even wear wigs.  See if you can disguise yourself and hide out.  Free men never pay much attention to slaves so if you are careful and lucky, you might be able to escape notice.”

She snapped erect and cupped her breasts.  “Ok, so I cover my body with make-up and dye my hair black.  But what about these?”

“Hunch over as a subservient slave and wear your hair before you.  It’s not perfect but it may help.”  This was not the capable Dr Jennings that I knew so the last weeks while I was unconscious had broken her.

“And when Ghal comes looking for me?”

“Doctor Jennings,” I cupped her face with my hands.  “You are one of the most intelligent and capable women that Earth has managed to produce.  You turned Stroud’s failure into your own success.  You ride dirt bikes, climb and rappel cliffs and who knows what else.  You can do this.” I lifted her off my lap and stood.  It hurt but I managed to hide the pain and not shake too much.  “See, only a few more days and I will be ready.  Anyone can hide out for a few days.”

The truth was that it would take more than a few days to fully heal but I was determined to get her out of here as fast as I could.

“Jason, you may not have a few days.  He got bored with me, I guess my anatomy was too primitive to keep his interest but as soon as you are awake, he’ll continue where he left off and that means…”  Well, that explained some of the aches and faint scars I found that were now gone.  He had been poking around while I was comatose.

Then it occurred to me to ask, “Can you speak the language now?”  She knew too much for someone who couldn’t understand what she heard.

She lifted her hair to show a scar.  Humans don’t heal as easily as Red Men or Weir.  “He took a part of another girl’s brain and put it inside me to give me her memories as an experiment.  She was awake the entire time and now is autistic or insane.  I had a headache for days but I could understand the language within hours.  I hate this place.  Jason,” she was crying now, “He climaxed while he was cutting her brain apart.  He gets off on pain and blood and I don’t know why he avoided my menstrual blood.”

I held her some more and told her, “I know those kind.  He probably thinks you re diseased and actual sex isn’t as much fun as the perversion.  I knew a lesbian in Romania who hated straight sex but had the most intense orgasms when she was whipping a woman to death or watching that woman being raped.  Her name was Elizabeth Bathory and she became famous as the Vampire Countess of Hungary.  Nolan Ghal would prefer things other than sex.  Stay here as long as you can.  We’ll get you out and I rarely break my promises.”  I didn’t want to tell her the truth about my relationship with the woman.  She barely could accept me as I am now.

I began to stress my leg and force it to heal faster though I had to be careful and not damage it more.  It was a fine line and I hoped we could find thoats to ride out for I could not climb nor swim.

I was asleep when she left but found more supplies which I eagerly consumed and thus accelerated my healing and explored my cell.  There were no windows and but a single small door with the eternal radium lamp attached to the wall a foot above my head.  Unlike most Barsoomian buildings, these had been carved from the crater wall and so they were forced to build small.  And small my cell was though larger than many I had been imprisoned in as a youth.

Jennings and I were ‘in flagro delicta’ as the poets say when Nolan Ghal burst in with a guard.  Drat!  So close.  But She jumped off and I shoved her behind me as he came forward.

“So, you are awake.  Good.” He ignored our encounter that embarrassed the guard to the point where the Red Man could barely stand to look at us.  “I have need of you.  Can you walk?”

“I cannot yet.  My leg still is too weak.”

He turned to the guard, “fetch a gurney,” then again, “I hear you are from another world and were once Jasoomian until some aliens changed you into your present form.  Then you will appreciate what I wish to do.  Barsoom is dying.  To survive we must adapt.  We changed into egg-layers to survive and now must change to vacuum breathers.  Studying you can help the race survive.”

“I can easily do that as I know of many races that need no air to live.  Let us retire to your lab and we can solve the problem.”

He looked, then moved back a step, “Why help me?”  The man was insane but still sane enough to be suspicious of my offer.

I smiled, “Because helping you alive is better than helping you dead.  One thing though, Jennings here is mine.  She is my payment for helping you.”  Jennings tried to speak out but I stopped her with a motion.

He looked at her then laughed, “Her body, though interesting, is of no further use to my studies.  Jasoomians are too primitive to be of any scientific use.  Agreed.  Tell me of these races.”

“In the atmosphere if Sassoom, “ I began, “Live beings made of silicon.  They float in ammonia-methane and need no air.  Perhaps this is a possibility?’

“Silicon,” he mused as the gurney arrived.  “No longer subject to injury and death.  Tell me more.”  He walked next to my gurney upon which I sat and which was pushed by Jennings while his guard walked close by with hand on hilt.

I tried to explain the workings of silicon-dioxide life but avoided the fact that silicon life was rarely more intelligent than a slug so I could gain his confidence.

Inside I asked for a crutch to move around, a request he refused, but Jennings helped me to sit in a chair amidst horrors I dare not remember.  The man enjoyed vivisection and justified his crimes as ‘necessary for the common good.’

Then as I tried to draw on some paper the chemical outline for silicon life, I ‘accidentally’ dropped some papers and as the guard stepped forward and bent over to retrieve them without thought, Jennings pushed him to me and I was able to snap the man’s neck easily.  Then standing with the guard’s sword in hand I called, “Bar the door.  Nolan Ghal, if you call out you die!”

He argued with me, still seeking to win me to his side as I backed him to a corner.  Then I called, “Jennings, do you want the honour?” as I handed her the guard’s Shortsword.

She came to Nolan Ghal but hesitated and I saw her desire for his death war within her.  Then she threw the blade aside, “I am no murderer!”

Nolan Ghal breathed a sigh of relief then I said to him, “But I am!” and a cut near removed his head.  A second blow and the man was in two pieces, the top part I stuck on my blade and tossed into a convenient oven.  “Ellen, listen at the door and don’t look.” And I released the poor victims of science from their misery.

Then I searched his lab for any medicines that would help and removing my bandages, called, “Ellen, Help me here.” 

She rushed over, not looking at anything save my leg and cleaned and treated my leg which was near healed by now thanks to not only my Weir constitution, but the marvels of Barsoomian medicine.  “I can walk but not run.  I think our time here is at an end.  Pity caves do not burn but we can destroy his notes and hope no other tries to duplicate these nightmares.”  Then I managed to remove the harness of the dead guard and once again armed properly, felt much better as Jennings dressed in whatever clothing she could find from the pile collected from Nolan Ghal’s experiments.

“Now we are ready to leave!”

Before we could open the door, she flung herself into my arms and cried so I held her until she was done.  We had time and as she buried her face into my shoulder, I took the opportunity to glance around and find that unlike the cinema, the air-ducts here were too small to use as a means of escape.

When she was done, I asked, “When are the corridors least used?  Day when they are outside farming or night when they are asleep?”  My plans changed with the information she provided.

“Probably night, I think.  But I’d rather face the entire city than remain here another minute.”

“That may be but I cannot fight an entire city.  So we wait.  Fortunately, men like this enjoy their privacy so the city knows to not disturb him lest they become of some use to science.”  I noted a Barsoomian timepiece on the wall and noted, “we have a few hours before midnight, see if he has anything to eat and drink please,” and I hobbled around opening doors until I found his sleeping chamber. Then throwing his silks and furs to a corner, refusing to think of what he had done to Jennings here, I stuffed my stomach again and napped, wishing that Jennings would keep me awake but she refused to remain in that room.

“Jason, wake up!  It’s past midnight.”

I awoke slowly and then asked, “Clean and retreat my leg once more. Please.”   As she did so I ate and looked over our kit, looking for medical supplies, food, water, silks and anything else I felt we could use.  Unlike my former human body, when injured, my stomach digested food quickly and shifted the nutrition to the injuries to rebuild tissue so I could eat more and more often than when human. And when done, I grabbed the blonde, kissed her well and said, “Remain behind me.  I can keep us both alive if I don’t have to worry about you getting in the way.”

“Don’t worry.  I’m not a fighter but here, I found this while you were snoring.” And she pressed a revolver into my hand.  I checked to find it was fully loaded with a dozen nuclear rounds and asked, “Any more ammo?”

“These,’ she handed me three cylinders.  Four dozen rounds.  I’d have to conserve them.

I kissed her again and said, “You are a fantastic woman.  Let’s go because I want to make love to you under the sky and twin moons.”

“Men! Always thinking with your lower head.”  But her tone denied her words and implied she would enjoy that as well. 

We made our way through the darkened halls and she whispered, “That is the first time you said ‘make love’ to me.”

“It is?  I’m sorry for you deserve no less.”

Further conversation was prevented by guards who forced us to hide then soon we reached the entrance to the outer city.  We couldn’t avoid these so I hobbled to them and as they watched I called out, “Koar!  How is the night air?”

My attitude put them at ease until they recognized me and Jennings as we left the dark but my casualness worked in our favour for I was able to get next to them before they thought to stop me.  By then I punched one, slammed the other against the wall and checking that both were unconscious we left the city seeking the thoat pens.

Escape was that easy.  No alarms, no pursuit, no fighting though I had to teach Jennings how to saddle the eight-legged horse and she had to help me mount.  Then we left for the north and rode through the night, reaching the cliffs just before sunrise.


At the cliffs, we stopped and I crept forward to look for guards.  If need be we would exit as I had entered, over the cliffs but I’d rather have the thoats in case we were pursued for soon the guards would awaken and sound the alarm.  A search would reveal my murders and the city would chase us to keep their existence a secret, all facts I kept from Jennings.

The twin moons were overhead and gave light equal to a half terrestrial moon and with my enhanced vision, I had no trouble seeing my way.  But once in the trees that lined the marsh, all was useless and we resorted to foot, leading out mounts as we sought the path to the cliffs.  Of necessity we moved very slow to avoid stepping on branches and by the time I saw the guards glowing in the dark, my leg was aching.  Had I a bow, it would be easy but, no need to cry for what I had not so handed Jennings my reins and crept forward then later returned and we rode on more to rest my aches than anything else.  Jennings refused to look at my handiwork and the outer guards were more alert though expecting danger from outside, not inside, so as we rode near, we kicked our mounts and rode one guard down as we galloped past. 

I led Jennings into the desert with the rising sun behind us then north to rest only when our thoats were exhausted.  Then we slowed and dismounted under an outcrop that gave us some shade from the newly risen sun.

As Jennings changed my dressings, I explained, “They don’t dare let us escape for we know that they exist.  I don’t know if they will pursue us alone or seek aid from the eastern city but hopefully they will follow the river north and send others around the crater to follow south.  With luck, they won’t think to seek us in he desert.”

“And then?”

“North.  I have an idea I wish to consider.  How do you feel?”

“Better now that we are away.” She looked at the sand broken only by the occasional outbreak of reddish moss and added, “I’d rather be here, dying of thirst with you than comfortable in that city.  Can you get this thing off my neck?”  and she came to me.

I examined the collar and kissed her shoulder. 

“|”That won’t get this thing off.”

“But it may me,” I added.

“Don’t be crude,” she admonished.

“I’m sorry, but I’m thirsty and the taste of your skin excites me.” I added, trying to salvage the moment.

“Your people aren’t really into seduction, are they?”

“It’s not an occupation that we choose.  Our women are as sexually aggressive as are our men and we don’t play games.  To us, ‘fuck you’ is an invitation and foreplay unneeded.  Remember the early times with Eddie when you ripped his clothes off and attacked him?  Now you need him to take his time and get you receptive!  With us, that initial passion lasts forever.”

“No wonder you don’t do well with me.”

“Human men love dating Weir women but human women hate dating Weir men for the same reason.”  I pulled her into my arms and next to me so I could hold her.  I obviously wasn’t going to get sex so would have to settle for cuddling.

“Do you understand the difference between sex and making love?” she asked as she snuggled in.

“To you, sex is fast, making love is slow and takes time to reach the sex part.  To us, the only difference is emotional.  The act is the same, only when we make love, we open our minds to each other and mix emotions with our bodies.”

“Like telepathy?”

“Almost.  Sex is just joining bodies to fulfill a physical need like eating a hamburger because you are hungry.  Making love is like a good restaurant where you enjoy the meal.  When we fuck, we close our minds.  When we make love, we open them to each other.  To you, there is no difference but to us there is.”

“Which means that because I am not a telepath and I love Eddie, you cannot make love to me, you can only fuck me like any piece of ass you find on a street corner.”  She sounded bitter.

“I’m sorry.”

“Well, I knew something like this when I agreed to our agreement.  Do you need my body now?”

“I can wait.  I may not be able to share emotions with you but I do recognize that you have feelings so will wait.”

She snuggled deeper into my arms and said, “I’m sorry I cannot give you everything that you need.  And I guess I’m jealous of your wives that could.  By the way, how many times were you married?”

I laughed, “Ellen, I’m over two hundred years old.  All of my wives were humans and we call humans ‘dayflies’ because you die of age so soon.  I’ve had Weir lovers but none who would marry me because their children would have to be soldiers and we may fuck like animals and close our lovers for their physical attributes, but we marry for logical reasons. And when you are going to me together for 500 years, you need to be certain that the person you will marry is compatible in more ways than just occasionally in bed.”

“Five hundred years… I can’t imagine living with Eddie that long.  Maybe that’s why we never married, because I’m not certain I want to spent even the next thirty years with him.”  Then she drifted off to sleep and after looking around, I joined her knowing that unless the Red Men saw our thoats, they’d not be able to estann us since humans and Weir were psychically invisible to them.

The sun was high in the sky when I awoke to her enjoying herself holding my hands to her breasts and she rode and, once awake, I joined in until we were both finished.  “Did you enjoy that?” she asked as she ran her fingers through her hair.

“Very much.  And as much as I’d like to continue, there is a rock in the small of my back that is killing me.”

She laughed, “That’s why I get on top when we are outside.  Eddie always insisted that I be his mattress and sometimes, it was uncomfortable.  So what do we do now?”

“Ride north and when we run low on water, east to the river.  I don’t know when Heaven’s Gate will stop looking.”  Then I pulled her under the overhang and pointed, “Therns!  Here, take your thoat and wave them down.  Pretend you are one of them and try to keep them occupied so I can circle behind. And woman, hide your breasts!”

My plan formed instantly.  She stood in the sun and waved some silk as I hid and soon the Thern flier turned and approached. Then judging its landing location, moved to another rock and as the craft landed, I approached and climbed over the rails and waited until the crew had disembarked.  Then I simply rendered the pilot unconscious, did a quick look below to ensure the craft was empty and stood to call out, “Koar!  You are five to my one and I have no wish to shoot you down here and now.  But I will, rather than risk your blades.  Drop your weapons and walk to your left for a haad or so if you would.

Jennings stripped the thoats of our personal belongings as I yelled, “Leave the water but bring the food and gear and their revolvers.  Gentlemen, you can easily reach the Iss in a zode or two so I hope you do not mind us borrowing your flier?”

Then as Jennings climbed aboard, I lifted off as the Therns ran for their weapons and our two abandoned thoats.  I landed a distance and tossed the unconscious pilot over the side then lifted again and headed for the Iss, intending to follow it north.

“This is Great!” she called as she examined everything she could and within a very short time we saw a long line of hills that stretched to the northwest.  Unfortunatly we were forced to fly at a low altitude because of the thinness of the Martian atmosphere but upon cresting the hills, found ourselves in another marsh. This was a long gorge that was as wide as the Heaven’s Gate crater but so long it stretched over the horizon, an easy feat as the horizon of Mars was so close only the rolling landscape prevented us from falling over the edge.

This marsh, however, was wetland from cliff to cliff and if anyone lived here in the lack of dry land, they showed no signs.  Then leaving this marsh we were about to turn north to follow the river when Jennings pointed to the west and said, “A lake!”

“Are you certain you want to check it out?”  I asked.

“I don’t see any connection to the river.  Maybe it’s uninhabited?  And I’d love a swim in clean water.”

The Thern flier had no cannon but some heavy rifles that could be mounted to the deck so I agreed with considerable misgivings.


It was close, less than a hundred kilometers and as we approached, another flier, smaller but well armed, came down from above.  Two more moved to our sides and we landed under their guns. 

When we disembarked and stood in the desert, hands up, we were approached by an actual Orovar, white skin, auburn hair and carrying a revolver with his other weapons.  He looked us over and commented, “Neither of you are Therns or any race I have seen.  Who are you and where are you from?”

I explained that Jennings was a scientist from Jasoom and that I was a Jedwar from Drakonis and how we came to be on Barsoom.  After listening to our story, he bade us to lay our weapons down and enter his craft to be judged by the Jed of his city.  As much as I disliked the idea, I did so for I was still not well enough to fight them all, especially as they had armed aircraft watching.

To their credit, we were not bound and were treated well and with courtesy which I found very surprising considering that these Orovars seemed to be at war with the Therns who would gladly exterminate any people they found near the Iss.  “Like the few other cities along the Iss, we survive because we remain in secret.  But we are a dying race and not as hardy as the Red Men who were bred for the modern Barsoom desert.”

“Neither were our races.  Doctor Jennings was bred for the plains and forests, my race for space travel.” I added.

Once inside we saw a small city that was mostly filled with Red Men and Women with a lesser number of Orovars.  “The Red Men are descended from slaves or those we found along the Iss.  We adopt them into our city but none are allowed to leave.”

Once presented to the Jed, we were examined and told that we could remain here or be killed which was no choice at all but if Jennings was a scientist, she would be valuable to them for they were in sore need of people to repair their stolen fliers.

And so it went.  Jennings learned about the Barsoomian technology, something that I had tried to hide from her to no avail and she settled in happily and showed no inclination to leave.  I joined in myself as the Demons had trained me to be a technician for that is why they created the Weir Race, to be starship technicians and even our weapons, sans revolvers, were returned to me. 

I healed quickly, Jennings and I swam in the lake, made love on the shore and once she said, “This is such a wonderful life.  I’m finally respected for my skills, there is no danger, no assholes like Dr Stroud or Captain North to order me around and lots to learn.  I could remain here forever.”  She was now dressed as a Red Woman, not even noticing her bare breasts and almost naked lower regions. She had started out wearing clothing that was acceptable in America hoping to change fashions to what she deemed to be ‘respectable’ but eventually gave up and went native.

“Unfortunatly, Ellen, I cannot.  I have a life out there and besides, I still have our agreementl to keep.”

“Our Deal?  I release you from that.  I think I want to remain here.”

“What about Stroud, North and Steve?  If they are alive, I need to rescue them too.”

She looked up to me and said as she caressed my cheek, “Yes, I suppose you must, it’s the way you are.  I suppose we’ll discuss the future after you return.”

So we sought the Jed and made a deal.  Jennings would remain as hostage.  I would seek out the others and bring them here and keep the existence of this place a secret.  Then, when we were all together, our future would be discussed further.

Honestly, I expected less from the Jed but he saw Jennings’ abilities as valuable enough to agree in the hopes that Steve would also be as valuable to them.  The fact that none of us had loyalties anywhere on the planet made them work hard to ensure that we would be loyal to them and no other.

So with thoat packed and ready for they would not give me a valuable flier, we spent one last night together and I set out to find the others.

  • Slaves: 1 black (Sojar), 2 red men (Hanno & Vos Kar), 1 red woman (Kara)
  • Bar Komas- name taken by the tech steve
  • Wilks & kahn- soldiers.  Kahn was eaten by a banth.  Wilks drowned in the Iss
  • Eddie-  Ellen’s boyfriend
  • Dr Ellen Jennings PhD
  • Captain Mark North
  • Dr. Carl Stroud
  • Nolan Ghal- mad scientist. In heaven’s gate.

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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