"A GRIM SURPRISE"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The flagship of the Helium expedition
crossed the planet's invisible equatorial line early on the seventh day
of the mission. The entire fleet of airships now encircled the Haldar,
glistening in the morning sun's rays like a flock of great silvery birds,
gliding effortlessly in their migration to some distant destination. Princess
Dejah Thoris stood gripping the guard rail at the elevated bow of the huge
warship. She shivered in the the steady wind, practically naked and unadorned,
save for a few hairclips and the radiant gems that decorated her hand-crafted
leather sandals. Stretching around her waist, under her unclad breasts
and up about her shoulders and neck were the belts and buckles of a common
airman's leather harness, one strap of which she had secured to the rail.
This sparse apparel offered no protection from the blasts of frigid air
but the princess withstood the chill without complaint, her heart warmed
by the exhileration of flying so high, so fast, and above regions of Barsoom
she had never before set eyes upon. For the first time in weeks she was
totally happy and without a care in the world
Springing to his feet Captain Carter
was surprised to learn that his every movement was magnified in the low
gravity of Mars. A flick of the wrist sent his arm outward its full length.
What would have been a three foot stride on Earth took him three yards
or more in his new environment. He would have to learn to walk all over
again, as the muscular exertion which carried him easily and safely upon
his home planet played strange antics with him upon Mars. Yes, it must
be Mars -- no other explanation seemed possible.
The Earthman spent a considerable amount
of time exploring his new situation. Sooner or later he knew he must find
water and food. Clothing, weapons, and shelter might also be useful additions
to his current set of possessions -- quick consisted of absolutely nothing.
In his search he happened upon a low, walled enclosure about four feet
in height, made of stones and some kind of cement. It had obviously been
constructed by intelligent beings in the not too distant past, but the
only possible commodity it might supply to meet his current needs was what
appeared to be a nest of very large eggs. And, before he could examine
this marvel very closely, John Carter met with the first of the many perils
Mars. A score of sinister looking Martians almost took him unawares from
behind. Coming, as they did, over the soft and soundless moss, they might
easily have captured him, but their intentions were far more hostile. The
rattling of the accouterments of the foremost warrior warned the traveler's
ears and he spun around to meet the unexpected threat.
For an instant the soldier from another
world could scarcely comprehend the scene; it looked as if armed giants
with a dozen limbs each were bearing down upon him. His mind quickly sorted
out the details: they were huge, six-limbed creatures mounted upon even
larger eight-legged steeds. They presented the picture rather like a dozen
gorillas, each riding a rhinoceros and thrusting forward a great metal
shod spear. At his first sight of these charging Martians, John Carter's
muscles reacted instinctively. He leaped up to the top of the egg-filled
enclosure. The full extent of his powerful jump did not end there, however.
In the lesser gravity of Mars Captain Carter was able to vault entirely
over the wide enclosure. This marvelous display stunned the savage green-skinned
riders. They eyed him warily and exchanged strange sounds that Captain
Carter guessed to be language. He was just about to continue his leaping
escape when the Earthman noticed that several of the giants were pointing
their long-barreled firearms directly at him. Running away no longer seemed
to be a very good idea.
fter the giants had conversed for a
short time, one of their number dismounted, threw down his spear and firearm,
and came around the end of the egg enclosure toward the Virginian, entirely
unarmed and naked, except for a few ornamented straps which crossed his
upper and lower torso. When he was within a few feet of John Carter the
tall green creature performed a remarkable bodily transformation, going
down upon four limbs and holding out his remaining two arms, palm first,
as if to show that he carried no weapons. In Captain Carter's mind the
monster looked very much like misconstrued centaur, drawn from a madman's
retelling of Earth's mythological past. He accepted a metal armlet that
the creature had unclasped from its own forearm and offered to him, but
all the Earthman could give in return was a nod of acknowledgment and mimicry
of the alien's open-palm gesture.
That seemed to be just what the giant
wished to see. He stood back up on his two rear limbs, voiced something
like a gurgling laugh, and motioned to the white man that he should take
a seat behind him on the glossy back of his mount. There the Virginian
hung on as best he could to the Martian warrior's leather body harness
and the entire troop galloped away toward the range of hills in the distance.
Crossing over the hills the riders
came down onto a low table land upon which the Earthman beheld an enormous
ruined city. The savage caravan soon entered into this extensive collection
of buildings and John Carter beheld, for the first time, evidence that
the green giants might not be the only inhabitants of his new home. The
riders were much too large for the doors, windows and alleyways of the
ruined metropolis; all of which appeared to have been built by some other,
"Could other humans be on Mars -- my
size?" questioned the Earthman. But the only intelligible sounds he could
discern among the green man's grunts and roars were syllables that sounded
something like "Tars Tarkas!" And that meant nothing to Captain Carter.
As they entered the a plaza near the
center of the city, hundreds of the twelve-foot creatures gathered around
the riders, eyeing the white man suspiciously. By this time the Earthman
had heard the sounds "Tars Tarkas" so often that he supposed it must be
the name or title of his friendly captor. After the party had dismounted,
this same green leader indicated by crude pantomime that the white man
should give the giants a demonstration of his remarkable jumping abilities.
This request Captain Carter complied with, giving some obvious satisfaction
to the green leader and his people.
After skipping around like some monstrous
grasshopper for a while, the captive tired of the sport and ceased his
frenetic activity. This did not suit the pleasure of one towering green
man who stepped out of the crowd, yelling incoherent sounds like "sak,
"drogar," and "gorthan-jur!" The meddler pushed forward, tripped the white
man, and then proceeded to bang him about, all the while laughing boisterously
at his superb joke. In a flash the Earthman sprang into the air, swinging
a potent right fist squarely into the brutal fellow's jaw and he went down
like a felled ox. The downed brute did not move a hair and Captain Carter
thought it entirely possible that he had slain the giant antagonist with
a single blow.
This continued display of agility and
conflict brought wild peals of laughter and applause from the giants and
John Carter was left to wonder what sort of mad creatures he had fallen
with. Surely they were a totally unpredictable and incredibly dangerous
pack of monsters.