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Volume 4849

Hair and the Heroes: Barsoom
or, A Doom With a View:
a Hair-Raising Tale in Eight Scenes
by Brian Kunde

John Carter Mars Wars
John Carter - Warlord of Mars art by Paul Privitera


(John Carter, Ledin Nogin, Mun Yunet, Slidhi Tov and Toog are discovered on an eminence, half-platform, half-rubble, above an open space, with a futuristic cityscape as a backdrop. For reasons that will become evident, it is advised that said rubble be made up of Styrofoam or foam rubber. The future buildings also look somewhat the worse for wear, this being Zodanga, which has been sacked by Green Men within living memory, and this being Barsoom, where even the future has far too many eons of history behind it. Below and before them in the open space mill a large number of naked red men recycled from Scene 1, through presumably, in many instances, representing different characters, a fair number of the original ones having tasted Carter's blade to their permanent indigestion. They are festooned with weapon harnesses, likewise recycled from Scene 1, and are waving swords about. So are Our Heroes, aside from Carter, who is still waving the two-by-four about, and occasionally clonking a red man on the head with it. All characters, heroes and villains alike, shout inchoately and similarly busy themselves in other stage business when not dialoging, just so they aren't looking like they've nothing to do while others are talking. As an example, clacking swords with opponents is suggested. There is also crowd noise, more than might be expected from the crowd at hand, which rises whenever someone gets clonked or skewered, and falls whenever someone doesn't. Ur Jan, tiresomely, is leading from the rear again, egging on his minions. That puts him at lower stage left, closest to the audience.)

Ur Jan: Kill them! Kill them!

Assassin 9: Oh right, that worked SO well in the last melee.

Assassin 10 (snidely): It COULD have, but NOOOO, our fearless leader had to decide on JAIL.

Ur Jan: What ails you, man? He was unconscious, remember? It wasn't a fair fight any more. Killing him at that point would have been--

Assassin 10 (interrupting): Prudent? Convenient?

Ur Jan: Dishonorable!

Assassin 10: Here we go again…

Assassin 9: Well, he's awake, now.

Ur Jan (brightly): Right! Kill him!

Assassin 11 (right beneath Carter): Easier said than done, O Guildmaster! UGH! (Gets clonked by Carter. Crowd noise rises.)

Assassin 12: Shall we throw rocks again, as before?

(Toog picks up a piece of foam rubble and throws it, felling Assassin 12. Crowd noise rises again.)

Assassin 10: Can't. They've got all the rocks.

Ur Jan: Kill them, kill them, KILL THEM!

Assassin 10 (turning around, hefting his sword menacingly): You know, O Guildmaster, it occurs to me that it might prove safer if we just killed YOU.

Ur Jan (dancing back and pointing to Assassin 10): Well, kill HIM, anyway!

Assassin 9: With apologies, O esteemed Park Karkas. (Runs through Assassin 10 from the back; he falls. Crowd noise rises again.)

Ur Jan: Well done, and for that reason I will condescend to overlook the less than honorable approach. Anyone ELSE feel like questioning my leadership?

Assassin 13 (nervously glancing about): Not among our friends, anyway.

(Toog throws another block of foam rubble, which narrowly misses Ur Jan. Crowd noise semi-rises before falling again, more quickly than for more decisive results.)

Ur Jan: You know, it occurs to me I might get a more strategic overview of the conflict from a little further back…

(Exit Ur Jan, backing away, stage left.)

Tov (clacking swords with a lower-down opponent): Begging Lord Carter's pardon, but while it's nice we have the high ground and all, I'm not sure the revolution is going quite as anticipated.

Ledin (likewise clacking): Yeah. They're not dead yet.

Tov: Astutely spoken, Ledin. Considering.

Mun: Some of them are dead. Oh, I'll feast tonight! (Springing back from a swing he somehow missed clacking:) Assuming we prevail, of course. Doom!

Carter (clonking another assassin, to the usual rise in the crowd noise): True, it's not progressing as quickly as I expected. I rather thought the people would rise up.

Tov: This is Zodanga, remember? City you led the green hordes into, once upon a time? I fear you are no more popular than the assassins, O Warlord. As far as the Zodangans are concerned, this is a sporting championship in which the home team was previously eliminated. I suspect they are waiting to see who wins so they can decide who it will be safe to rise up for.

Carter: And after all I've done to them! Go figure. But don't lose heart, friends. We may be outmassed and surrounded owing to the pusillanimity of those we seek to liberate, but do we not have weapons? Do we not have Toog, with lots of rocks? Do we not have me? Our victory is assured!

Mun (gloomy again): Sure. But do they not have weapons, too? Do they not have numbers? Do they not have Ur Jan, strategizing from a safe distance? Are not two of our number irredeemably dumb? Doom.

Carter: My friend, what Ledin and Toog lack in brainpower they more than make up in good heart and good will, so take heart!

Mun (with a significant look at Carter): What makes you so certain 'twas they to whom I alluded, O Warlord? Whose stupid miscalculation got us into this mess, anyway? Doom.

Carter (modestly): I am but a simple fighting man, and while one day I am certain I must die the death from which there is no resurrection, I have never known the trust I place in my own right arm and trusty sword to be misplaced--

(An assassin's weapon manages to get past the impenetrable web woven by his block of wood, ringing his bell. The crowd noise rises. Carter shakes it off and clonks the offender. The crowd noise rises.)

Carter (continuing): --save intermittently, in the midst of an adventure, for the convenience of the plot.

(As if to punctuate this statement, he clonks another assassin, again with the customary rise in crowd noise. Tov skewers another opponent, ditto, and Toog fells a third with another fake rock, ditto ditto. The assassins shout more loudly and less choately than they have been and redouble their efforts, surging forward. Our Heroes conduct their stage business more frenziedly than before, until the tide subsides somewhat.)

Ur Jan (offstage left): Kill them!

Tov (to Mun): He's as one-note as you are, Mun. I don't recall him being half this annoying, back when I worked for him.

Toog: Nor does Toog. (Throws another fake rock stage left.) Too far away to shut up with rock. (Looks down at his feet.) Not as many rocks, either.

Mun (gloomy): Doom.

Ledin: Shut up and fight!

Carter: That's the spirit!

(There is another surge, beat off with additional stage business, but it takes longer.)

Ur Jan (offstage left): They tire! Up lads, and at them! I'm behind you all the way!

Assassin 9: So I've been noticing.

Ur Jan: Kill that one.

Assassin 13 (turning to Assassin 9): With apologies, O esteemed Snifin Snival. (Runs through Assassin 9, who falls.)

Assassin 9: Think nothing of it. With friends like you… (Trails off and expires. Crowd noise rises again.)

Ur Jan (offstage left, impatiently): I'm WAITing…

Assassin 13: Oh, right.

(Assassin 13 surges forward, along with his compatriots. There is a lot more stage business, but this time the assassins do not reel back; rather, the press is maintained. The crowd noise rises slowly. Enter Ur Jan, stage left)

Ur Jan: At last, we prevail! Keep it up, boys, once more into the rubble! Victory is--

(An arrow sprouts from his arm. Probably it was there all along, on an armband or something, but held flat against the arm by the actor playing Ur Jan, who has now let it go. It responds appropriately due to being constructed of some sort of springy material. Like an actual spring, perhaps. Or if you haven't got, improvise. Just don't be shooting actual arrows about, it might make the audience nervous.)

Ur Jan (stupefied, looking at the arrow as if he doesn't know what it is): What's this? (Falls to his knees, still stupefied and still looking at it. The crowd noise rises, because that's what it does in situations like this.)

Paxton (offstage right): Nice shooting, Belphebe!

Harold (offstage right): Attack, or something!

(Enter Ulysses Paxton, Harold Shea, Jana Gridley and, more slowly, Belphebe Shea, stage right. The first two are waving swords, the third a club; Belphebe twangs her bow as if she has just let off another shot (pretend, here; remember, don't be shooting actual arrows about) before drawing from her quiver another shaft and nocking it. Paxton rushes forward and seizes Ur Jan.)

Ur Jan: Issus! I am taken!

(The assassins mill in confusion, and the stage business of Our Heroes redoubles. Carter gets off multiple clonks, Toog multiple rocks, and Mun, Tov, Ledin each manage to skewer an opponent. The remaining assassins exchange looks, glance toward the captive Ur Jan, appear to take thought, and then throw down their arms and flee, streaming away stage left, right and center)

Ur Jan: Craven calots! Rally to your master!

Assassin 13 (practically the last to leave, and practically offstage already): Fugeddaboudid!

(Exit Assassin 13, stage left. Carter, Tov, Mun, Ledin and Toog leap down from their eminence.)

Carter: Victory, friends!

Tov: Timely succor, without a doubt!

Mun (hungrily eyeing the captive): Doom to Ur Jan!

Ledin (to the newcomers): Who are all you guys?

Toog (hefting a fake rock): Throw rock?

Carter: No, no, no thank you, friend Toog, put that down before you hurt someone.

Toog (hopefully, as he complies): Hurt after, then?

Carter (laughing): No, hold that, er, thought, in abeyance for the nonce. These are friends. (Turns toward the newcomers.) Right?

Paxton: I should say so, John Carter. You know ME, at least!

Carter: Aye, Vad Varo, but it seems a most unlikely relief crew you lead. Who are these warrior lasses? And the guy with the nose?

Harold: Beg your pardon?

Carter (offhandedly): Granted. We can't all be handsome, after all.

Paxton (clearing his throat): Ahem. John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, may I present the redoubtable Jana Gridley, the deadly Belphebe Shea, and the well-meaning Harold Shea, unfortunate victim of a hint of dementia. All of Earth, as we are, given that the government of your vaunted Helium proved loathe to risk Barsoomian lives on the project.

Carter: Ah yes, the Jeddaks of the twin cities have waxed large on what they term "plausible deniability" of late. But wherefore the mixed company? Not very traditional, you'll allow.

Paxton: Oh, they're big on equality of the sexes on Earth these days. Besides, we were all the Jasoomians available.

Jana: Save my wimp of a husband.

Belphebe: Now Jana, someone had to mind the bairn.

Carter: Jana … Gridley. You wouldn't happen to be related to that Jason Gridley who facilitates contact betwixt the orbs with that remarkable radio of his, would you?

Jana (modestly): My husband. Yes, he does well enough when he keeps his head in the clouds where it belongs.

Carter: And the Sheas sound familiar as well -- no, it defies reason. The names sound right, but I'm fairly certain they belong to a tale of fantastic fiction.

Harold: As to that, we specialize in visiting fantastic fictions. Yours, at the moment.

Carter (dubiously): You don't say.

Paxton (interjecting smoothly): And who are YOUR present compatriots, Lord Carter? For I perceive they mill about uncertainly, waiting to be introduced. (Note to the stage manager: indeed, they are.)

Carter: Quite right, forgive me. May I present the staunch and true Slidhi Tov, former assassin, Ledin Nogin, former prisoner, Mun Yunet, former cannibal, and Toog, um, just Toog, I think, former prison employee. All of them dungeon scum, I fear, but MY dungeon scum, and perhaps they'll clean up nicely.

Tov: Thank you, O Warlord, and perhaps you will as well.

Mun (archly): FORMER, you say? Well, be it so. Unless I can have that one when you're done with him. (Indicates the aloof and sour-looking Ur Jan, still on his knees and still in the clutches of Paxton.)

Ur Jan (morosely): Dishonor. Ah me, at least I won't have to endure it long, as I'm sure to bleed out ere the shame kills me.

Belphebe (brightly): Fear not, villain, for I have Band Aids. (Nodding to Carter.) Having learnt the difficult way how ill your subjects take death via missile weaponry, I came prepared. (Kneels to minister to Ur Jan.)

Carter (shrugging): Doesn't really count in warfare, which this most assuredly was. Well, on to the next part of the adventure, I suppose.

(Everyone regards him blankly.)

Harold: Next part? We're just here to rescue you and take you home to Helium. What's this next part, did I miss something?

Carter: My dear fellow, you have missed everything. We must now reunite whichever young warrior yet pines for his princess, who no doubt has been suffering perilous tribulations of her own. For that matter, given the number of us present, I suspect there are several couples to so reunite, resolve whatever misunderstandings have gotten in the way of their love by surprising revelations, make preparation for the weddings, and so on. Although the weddings, 'tis true, will likely be relegated to the aftermath of the portion of our experiences worthy of the telling and so are not, strictly speaking, part of the adventure per se.

Harold (shaking his head and moving over to Belphebe as she works on Ur Jan): No call for any such trouble on our account, we're already happily wed, and moreover have a toddler to return to.

Carter (hopefully): Truly? But the child has been kidnapped, no doubt?

Belphebe (looking up): No doubt at all, but we've already resolved that situation, in much the same way as I resolved your difficulty with your foeman here.

Ur Jan (muttering): Bows. Arrows. What is Barsoom coming to?

Carter: Vad Varo, then. I note you are not accompanied by your Valla Dia. What dire fate suffers she, that we needs must succor her from?

Paxton: Naught, save getting chattered to death by your Dejah Thoris, mayhap. She was being royally entertained when we departed Helium.

Carter (now visibly deflated, to Jana): What of your Jason? Surely, given his absence, you have some tale of trouble to relate?

Jana (shrugging): Would I did, but he generally contrives to remain safe, and I've no doubt such is the case at present, unless the Sheas's babe has happened to bite him. A poor thing, my Jason, but my own. I foresee no impediments to our reunion.

Carter (perplexed): What, no one with a woe to be mended? Then what on Barsoom are you doing gallivanting about on adventure?

Harold: It wasn't our choice, but when blackmail calls, the blackmailed must answer. I gather the sort of thing you consider adventure is a pastime for singles. Which begs the question, what are YOU doing here, Captain Carter?

Carter (defensively): I'm the Warlord. 'Tis my duty to facilitate the lovelorn along their quests.

Harold: Really? Doesn't go with any job description for Warlord I might imagine.

Carter: It relates. The position would grow obsolete did not someone ensure the continuation of conflict by abetting engenderment of the next generation of valiant warriors and demure princesses.

Paxton (with a laugh): Demure? I don't know what YOUR household's like, John, but in my experience--

Carter (firmly): And I know not the character of yours either, but I assure you, the royalty of Helium upholds the traditional values.

Paxton: As to that, I've heard a thing or two about your granddaughter Llana--

Carter (coloring): I blame the parents. Tara always was too indulgent. (Turns with relief to his fellow former prisoners.) What of you lot? Surely some among you harbor some secret, hopeless passion for a lady far above you.

Tov: My apologies, O Warlord, but I'm gay.

Carter (confused): Happy? What, without a lass of your own?

Harold: I believe he means his attraction is not to members of the opposite sex, sir. Surely even on Barsoom such bents are not unknown.

Carter (dubiously): Not unknown, but -- what of all your prying queries in regard to my Princess, Tov? Surely, in light of your expressed interest--

Tov: Protective coloration. Having telepathically confirmed I was among a band of flaming heterosexuals it behooved me to pass.

Carter (huffily): You could hardly have read MY mind.

Tov: Hardly had to, did I, with you all "Dejah Thoris" this and "Dejah Thoris" that?

Carter: I can't believe I didn't realize--

Tov: Hello? Assassin? Preening dandy, likes to dress up? Dead giveaway, I always thought.

Carter: Well, I don't suppose there's much I can do for you, then.

Tov (leering slightly): Well, if you're inclined to reorient--

Carter (hastily): Mun! Surely there's someone you--?

Mun: Irrevocably lost to me, O Warlord, albeit part of me always.

Carter: I apprehend some tragic story, which perhaps explicates your present demeanor. But I am touched you retain her in your heart.

Mun: Well, not in my HEART. Truth to tell, we were immured together, and with her passing, well, I got pretty hungry.

Carter (raising a hand and shaking his head): No more. Alas, poor Mun. Ledin?

Ledin: I'm too stupid.

Carter: I feared as much. (Takes a breath.) Toog?

Toog: Toog eunuch.

Carter (sighing): Very well. To Helium, then. (Shakes his head.) What's Barsoom coming to?

Ur Jan (sourly): My sentiment exactly.

Belphebe (finishing up): There. That should staunch your wound. Lord Carter? Ere we go, what of this one?

Ur Jan (sourly): What about me? I'm hardly young, romantic material to begin with.

Carter: Indeed. But that reminds me, I needs must decide your fate. It's what I came to Zodanga for in the first place, after all, though I'd rather forgot it.

Ur Jan: One of your most endearing characteristics, and believe me, we villains appreciate it. Well, then?

Carter (musing): What to do, what to do? I can hardly parole you, you've already broken faith on such trust before, and can hardly be relied upon not to do so again. Yet, issues of honor aside, it sorts ill with me to slay a helpless foe, save in combat, wherein it looks better, albeit in truth all foes are helpless against me.

Ur Jan: You are stalling, O Warlord.

Carter (looking around): Any ideas?

(Mun raises his hand.)

Carter (hastily): Aside from Mun Yunet, that is.

Tov: Be not too precipitous, Lord Carter. Not all his ideas lack merit. (Regards Ur Jan, smiling:) Doom.

Carter (relieved): Oh! That's all right, then. Doom it is.

Ur Jan (muttering): I was afraid you'd say that.

Tov (eyeing Mun): Don't be. There are fates worse than doom, believe me.

Carter: Well, that's that. Let's go, all. (Indicates Ur Jan.) Him, too.

Harold: But what of all the escaped assassins?

Carter: Details. Fodder for future adventures.

Paxton: Fret not, Harold. Doubtless Kantos Kan lurks nearby in that airship of his, and with the war fleet of Helium behind him. His warriors know just what to do with that lot, and he's long since used to mopping up after the Warlord.

Harold: But what of the Zodangans at large? They now lack government.

Carter: Indeed! The Zodangans! Having rescued them, it behooves as to proceed to the central square, make the appropriate noises, and receive their accolades.

Harold: Not what I meant, but a start, I suppose.

(The crowd noise rises again. The party looks about the stage. They draw together, as if perceiving some threat.)

Jana: Um, Lord Carter? Do Barsoomian accolades GENERALLY involve rotten fruit?

Mun (morosely): Doom.

Tov: RUN!

(Exeunt, Stage right, amid mounting tumult. Shadowy objects fly through the air, with lots of squishy, squelchy sound effects.)


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