It was a hot and sticky night. I lay atop the
cool linen sheets of my bed, sweat trickling down the sides of my body.
The cat was stretched out on the sill of the open window next to the bed.
The city hummed benignly around me, and small insects trilled in the stillness.
Too hot to sleep, I thought.
I forced myself to my feet and entering the bathroom I
soaked a facecloth with cold water from the tap. I wiped my face and then
squeezed out the water over my hair, the little rivulets sliding down over
my sunburnt shoulders. A long bicycle ride that afternoon failed to exhaust
I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my back, or rather
I didn't have anyone to do it for me. The burned skin was taut across my
back. Minus the pain and I would have enjoyed the sensation.
I breathed deeply and looked about me. Too restless to
sit idle, I thought.
I donned a pair of shorts and sandals, and walked out
into the thick night air. Not a breeze anywhere. I seemed to be the only
one awake in the neighbourhood tonight. No lights illuminated the old wood
houses. The large birch and oak trees stood motionless. The moon cast strong
shadows and light into the bushes and hidden recesses of the picket fenced
yards. The neatly trimmed lawns edged onto an old and cracked sidewalk
narrower, and with more charm, than any suburban boulevard. Cars, some
large and practical for growing families, others small, fast, and selfish
for the overtly unattached, lined both sides of the worn asphalt street.
The park lay in front of me and I found my cat following
close behind. I glanced at the phosphorescent dial of my watch. 3 a.m.
Two weeks holiday left.
Leave of absence.
I wanted to chuck it all, and I was afraid of the emotion
in me. I had spent years getting where I was, yet I was not happy with
my achievements. I had spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking
about my career and my life because of it. I had come to the inescapable
conclusion that I had been happier with the impossible dream in front of
me rather than having it in my hands. It's a hard lesson to learn that
you like the challenge more than the accomplishment.
I didn't know what the heck I was going to do about it.
I was just depressed and I didn't want to go back to work in that couple
I took off the sandals and walked barefoot through the
cool grass. The trees were thick around me, their branches draping gracefully
across the path. Small coloured lights flooded their canopy, giving them
a life unknown in the day. A beautiful fountain was lit up at the centre
of the park.
As we approached it, a welcome, cool mist enveloped us.
A wide marble lip encircled the bubbling water. The cat hopped up beside
me as I sat down.
One day while I sat in the park near this very fountain,
I had heard two art students from up the hill decry its sculptural merits.
Garish, kitsch, plebeian, had been the conclusion they had reached. Tonight,
I sat there, knowing what had made them say that because I had been there
once, but not letting it affect me in the least. The cherubs and the Rubenesque
women and the water flowing from them, down miniature waterfalls, splashing
onto cold stone fish held only familiarity for me now. It had been built
at the turn of the century when this city was an infant, still imitating
its worldly European siblings. The builders of this park were trying to
bring some class to a rough western town. Looking up at the stained marble
faces the only feeling I had was one of history and perhaps nostalgia.
I lay down on the lip and let my hand slip into the water,
letting the gentle action of the water's movement rock it. My eyes wandered
the crystal-clear night sky. Pegasus. Andromeda. Cassiopeia.
They were ethereal friends in the heavens looking down
upon where they had once walked. And like an angry eye, Mars stared bloodily
over the horizon.
I remembered the books I had not read in years and smiled.
John Carter of Mars.
Carter had been one of my heroes, along with a score of
others. He had arrived there with no thing but what he had been born with,
and had taken a harsh world by storm, wresting triumph after triumph in
a life filled with adventure.
How real it had all seemed, but eventually that phase
of growing up passes you, and the heroes you emulate as a boy give way
to the reality of what it really means to be a man. A part of me, though,
still wanted to be the adventurer king, defeating villains and always getting
the girl in the end.
Fantasy had given way to reality, and a love of the space
program and our universe forever ended any romantic notion of scantily
clad red women waiting for me on the plains of Mars.
Mariner 9, the Viking missions, and Pathfinder had given
us a clear picture of the scarred, dead planet.
Tonight, feeling small and alone, I was a child again.
Being the adult I had become collapsed about me.
Mars... if only it could be real.
My eyes had been watching the luminescent lap, lap, lapping
water at the fountain's edge. I suddenly felt drowsy, and perhaps if I
walked home now I could fall asleep. My legs felt strangely weak for one
so used to exercise. I must have pushed it too hard on the bike path, I
thought. I forced myself to my feet, taking a deep breath of air. I tipped
my head back to look up at the stars once again.
A meteor shower skittered across the Earth's atmosphere,
sparks of colour peppering the moment, but one speck grew brighter... and
larger! The cat saw it too. He hissed and hopped down under the fountain
and I followed suit. It was the only thing that could offer us any hope
Closer and closer the fiery ball... er... wait a minute.
It had ceased to glow. A bright, silvery canister attached
to a parachute floated to a soft landing on the vast lawn of the park.
The parachute billowed gently and draped the object.
I crawled out from under the fountain and walked cautiously
to the thing. The parachute was large, perhaps 12 metres in diameter and
decorated with many strange and unusual scenes of men, beasts, and vistas
not of this world.
I dragged it back to reveal the object.
It was no canister. About 6 metres long, constructed of
some beautiful silver metal, it reflected light in a soft diffused manner
not unlike polished aluminium. Its bow was a window array similar to a
B-17's nose. Sleek lines tapered back into many fins that terminated at
the stern. Its belly was also many radiated fins. There were three props.
The largest at the tail was the main means of propulsion. A rudder was
placed directly behind this for steering, and was attached like a c-clamp
to the top and bottom of the propeller housing. The other two props were
attached to short booms that extended from the sides of the craft.
I had no doubt that it was an airship, perhaps even a
spaceship, but the props would be nearly useless in space. They were only
good for inertial turning in the vacuum. The ship stood a little less than
2 metres tall and I looked for a way to clamber up (being only 1.75 metres
tall myself), and then I noticed foot holds set into the hull. There was
a single hatch just behind the nose bubble, on the top of the ship. A rotating
switch inset in the hull released the catch and with a small hiss the hatch
I dropped lightly into the cockpit. The hatch closed automatically
behind me. Nothing buzzed or hummed here in the stillness. The air in the
cabin was stale and devoid of odour. Fine dust reflected in the green light.
In the nose bubble two well-padded leather seats waited for pilots. Soft
illumination came from pelletlike lights all around me. On the right seat
I found a large sack filled with my wildest dreams and the reason why I
tell you my strange tale now.
The controls were labelled in English and some other strange
language that I had never seen. I tentatively activated the more mundane
of them before I tried the ones with almost unbelievable functions attached
It had been short work to render the ship invisible and
hovering a metre off the ground. Once I had overcome its inertia, dragging
the thing home to put it in the backyard was easy. It was a stroke of luck
that no one saw me walking down my back alley guiding nothing with effort.
I looked like a demented mime.
I really hate mimes.
The cat kept darting between my legs, meowing at my strange
...Hi, this is Chester Ventura. I know I promised to take
new assignments in mid-August, but I've decided to take a longer sabbatical
from the drawing board. I'll be out of the country for the near future,
and any business enquiries can be directed to my competitors. Thanks.
I slid into the soft leather of the pilot's seat. My co-pilot
scratched at his new gem studded leather collar with a determined hind
The systems panel was suspended over my head. My finger
touched the main power switch.
Immediately, the small green lights set in every gauge
and control lit up. The ship made no sound whatsoever. I ran my fingers
over the engine switch. The only thing that reached my ears was a faint
The past few weeks had swept by. The morning after my
discovery, I did my best to remain calm and went through my morning ritual
of calisthenics, martial arts forms, and a cool shower. Walking down the
hall to the living room, I laid out the contents on the hardwood floor.
No, I had not been dreaming the night before. I was still spellbound by
the magic illuminated in the soft morning light.
...All systems checked out. Powered by an atomic motor,
the fuel would last for many hundreds of years. Well, I was not like my
two earthly predecessors. I only had a lifespan of eighty years or so.
In other words, I never had to worry about running out of gas.
In between my seat and the cat's were all the gauges this
ship had had originally. Atmosphere capacity, fuel level, speedometer,
interior and exterior temperature, altimeter, and air pressure. These were
angled and inset into the panel so that the pilot could easily glance at
them without distracting them completely from flying the ship. To my left
was the new warning indicator panel. All the ship 's systems were wired
into these all-important monitors. Their lights all gave a comforting green
glow, but yellow lights, now off, would flash at me during a crisis.
A final check: air lock, invisibility screen.
Yes, all were a-ok...
The leather harness was inset with beautiful metals and
priceless gems, and its metal chestplate had a crest (a royal standard?)
etched delicately into it. A blood red ball of a gem that bespoke of fierce
Mars was a centrepiece. While it was made of strong supple leather it was
not a warrior's harness. Too bright. Too fancy. It was meant for court
The sword was a beautiful thing to hold. Light and well
balanced it had a weighted tip. This confirmed the descriptions of the
Martians. They were lithe and agile, consummate swordsmen, not axe-wielding
barbarians. The weighted tip gave them added power so as to make large
muscular development unnecessary.
A short sword and dagger were of similar construction,
the dagger balanced for throwing. Yet, I did not get a thrill from possessing
these. It was the 1990's, I did not fence, and swords are all to rare on
the streets of your average city.
Not that guns are all that common either, but I was familiar
with pistols and rifles. I am not one to brag but I was a fair shot, better
than some, worse than others.
The radium pistol was as fine a weapon as I had ever seen.
Even though it was built for a right-handed person, the balance was perfect
in my left. I could not use the holster though, it could only be used on
my right hip, but this was a small problem.
And then I found the pouch with the letter in it.
...The most important thing we added was a brand new multi-processor
computer server. On its hard drive array we loaded star charts, solar system
simulations, and navigation programs. We linked radar into it. It would
display on the computer's monitor. It wasn't quite up to NASA standards,
but a little common sense applied to the data it gave me would get me where
I was going without smacking into a moon, or missing the target altogether.
There was also an extensive database on the solar system. Everything I
could find on it went into the files. That and other information was stored
on CD-ROM. In my gear was a PowerBook laptop computer as well.
Next were the three two-way radios, each covering a different
piece of the airwaves. I set one for the police band, and another for the
The last major addition was a car stereo. It had a CD
player and an AM/FM radio. We installed twelve speakers around the ship's
I constantly wondered what was keeping me together. I
was a madman with regular features.
True, I had my private pilot's license, but there was
an incredible difference between flying around the area on a Saturday afternoon
and flying a rocket to Mars. I kept my panic down with the plans for the
voyage. And with the panic came delicious excitement in equal quantity.
I had been floundering for months, and maybe this insane path held something
My brother has always been the more practical of the two
of us, and he kept things level and calm. I would tell him what I needed
and he'd figure out where to put it in, utilising his vast knowledge of
electronic systems to adapt and integrate our systems to the alien technology.
For many years we had not been close. We had grown up
two very different people in two worlds of our own. Even now, my head was
in the stars, and his was down to Earth, level with the horizon. Night
after night we sweated through the hot summer together. Perhaps he too
was conscious of the years that had passed between us meaninglessly, but
it wasn't his way to bring it out into the open. And it wouldn't have helped
for me to upset the good work we were accomplishing, both for the ship
and for our relationship, so I shut up for the first time in my life and
enjoyed being near him.
Towards the end of the modifications we talked less and
less of my planned trip. It was as if a wall had arisen between us. I hadn't
thought that it would be hard to say 'good-bye', because for all I knew,
this might be the last time we ever saw each other. He suggested, and I
agreed with, a test flight of the strange craft. So in the still hours
of after midnight we powered it up and floated out of my back yard.
The flight controls were almost exactly the same as the
small planes that I had flown, but they had their own idiosyncrasies, and
it took the better part of an hour flying slowly over the city before I
felt comfortable with my control of it. During this time my brother checked
the monitor systems. Our radar functioned perfectly, showing regular traffic
around the airport in the northeast. Neither of us knew whether the invisibility
screen would shield us from the control tower's own radar. If the screen
only bent light, the radar would still detect our mass.
It turned out to be more sophisticated than that, because
no queries or warnings were heard on the tower frequencies. That was one
He told me that all systems were functioning properly
and we proceeded to the second stage of testing.
I opened the throttle and lifted the ship's nose. We rose
steadily for many minutes, and at 15000 metres we levelled off. My brother
adjusted the radar to long-range and I accelerated the ship. As our speed
increased the ship became much easier to handle. We cut through the clouds
like a hot knife through butter, and my brother watched the airspeed indicator.
"Okay, here it comes," he said, "brace yourself."
"Right," I replied simply.
"In... three, two, one... mark!"
BOOM! A small shudder rippled through the cabin. We had
passed the sound barrier.
My brother asked how the ship was handling.
Beautifully, I had replied.
For a number of minutes we picked up speed, eventually
reaching a staggering top speed close to 4000 km/h. We cruised high over
Canada and the North Atlantic. The clouds cleared away and we had a clear
view to the horizon. We were both awed with the sight of the sunrise flaring,
and before we had a chance to react we were in daylight. To our surprise,
the glass in the nose cone tinted and dimmed the bright light streaming
into the cabin. The beauty, however, was not diminished in the slightest,
and a flood of emotion helped me to remember how much I loved the planet
of my birth.
In that moment I almost chucked my plans to try for Mars,
but in the end, my determination for adventure won out.
Presently, we were over Europe, and I cut the throttle
and reversed thrust to slow us down. We descended and flew over Rome. It
was late morning and the streets were filled to capacity with cars and
thousands of milling people. But the city itself! It was more beautiful
than I could have believed. Pictures could not do this great city justice.
We cruised slowly over the famous buildings. Both of us were incredibly
impressed with the legendary works. Finally, we floated over the Coliseum.
My brother took my old Leica and snapped a number of shots with it.
Leaving the glory of Rome behind we rose quickly and headed
northwest over the continent. As we zipped along, avoiding heavy air traffic,
the cities of Europe unfolded below us. We arrived in Paris, and after
a similar mini air tour of that splendid city I spun the ship around the
Eiffel Tower a few times and shot up into the sky with the speed of lightning.
My brother questioned my doing doughnuts around that majestic spire, but
I had a feeling that he was more concerned with his nauseous stomach than
any affront to architectural dignity.
He plotted a return course home and as the sky deepened
in colour with every kilometre travelled to the west, we both sat there,
contented with our achievements of the past days. I landed the ship in
my backyard as the sun was rising. I was excited and exhausted at the same
While we went through the post-flight check I wondered
yet again if I was insane to plan my voyage to Mars, but as soon as I dropped
out of the ship and onto the ground I looked up at the fading stars and
the doubts left my mind.
I had to know...
It could not be true, but it was. By some fluke I had
come to possess this ship and its contents.
To tell you:
My dearest nephew Edgar,
I think of you often. How I remember the day I met you
on your father's plantation in Virginia! Even then you were a fine storyteller,
inventing people, their worlds, and their incredible adventures. I have
been fortunate that a creative person like yourself has brought my dry
accountings to life. That you have lived a comfortable life because of
it gives me great pleasure.
I know this ship and its contents must be quite a surprise
to you. The young padwar accompanying it will take you in it to the cruiser
Yes, it's true. I'm inviting you to come to Barsoom. Now
that we can travel between planets (the cruiser is to be the first of many)
I felt it only right that you be the first to enjoy the hospitality of
the courts of Helium.
I regret that I could not teleport to Tarzana to give
you the good news in person, but the Tharks and Warhoon have renewed their
war. The fighting has been fierce and it threatens to touch all the cities
surrounding this conflict, including Helium. I feel that they mean to annihilate
one another and Tars Tarkas has been heavy with responsibility for months
The city states cannot stay neutral much longer.
Every day brings fresh appeals for aid to my throne. As
Warlord, my decision will affect all the others and so I have sought a
balance of forces to stave off plunging half my planet into war. However,
as a man, Tars Tarkas is my friend and ally and I cannot ignore his pleas.
I will understand if you choose not to come, whether it
be the tensions building here, or the limits of old age. I do hope to see
I am writing this on (Earth date) November 18, 1944. You
should have this in your hands by the second week in December, they tell
My warmest regards,
Jed of Helium
Warlord of Barsoom
Burroughs had never received the letter. The padwar wasn't
in the 'shuttle'. What happened to the cruiser? And why after forty-five
years had the shuttle, far off course, landed in the park?
It would take me many months to piece it all together.
In between my legs stood the joystick. I put my hand on
it to keep my hand steady. On the console with the gauges was the small
throttle lever. I pushed it forward slowly. The ship began to rise gently,
thanks to the tanks of the eighth ray . My brother stood at the back door
to my house. He would smooth things over with my parents and friends. It
wouldn't be too bad. This was a typical thing for me to do (going away
on short notice). 11 p.m. The main computer monitor was mounted to my left
just in front of the indicator panel . It registered meteorological data
right now. Crosswind: 5 kmh. Relative humidity: low. Temperature: 27c.
The gyroscope was mounted on the inside of the nose bubble. It showed that
the ship's attitude was level.
I tried not to think about the dangers ahead.
On the main prop (the two boom props were for manoeuvring)
the top speed was about 4000 kmh, but when her main engine was brought
on line (I had failed to previously notice three iris ports below the prop,
which belonged to the atomic drive ) she was a relatively quick spaceship.
It would take me a little over two weeks to reach Mars.
Heliumites have always been, and always will be, the greatest
speed freaks in the galaxy. Their philosophy: put in the biggest engine
that will fit in the ship and hope she doesn't melt from the air friction
caused. I would be very careful not to engage the atomic drive until I
was in the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere.
At 75 metres I pressed down on the right hand pedal under
my foot. The ship's main prop whirred to life. Before I ascended any further,
I switched the computer over to radar priority. If I was using another
program and an object came within my radar's range (about 20 km) it would
switch over automatically, warning me. Right now, I needed it to avoid
any planes over the city. There were a couple of large objects in the northeast
(jets) and a small blip (a light plane or helicopter) to the southeast.
I took a couple of deep breaths slow through my nose.
Don't panic now, Ches.
I pressed down the accelerator, slowly bringing up my
speed. I pulled back on the stick. The ship eased up in a graceful arc,
cutting the night sky with her invisible body. I was glad we had taken
the test flight.
The g-forces were increasing steadily.
BOOM! went the speed of sound behind me.
Pushed the pedal all the way to the floor, slowly, steadily.
The g-forces remained relatively constant and easily bearable. The seats
were well designed. I looked over at the cat. He was okay, but not liking
this much. He had stretched out full length to reduce the pressure.
With no worries about running out of fuel I could take
my time escaping from Earth's gravity well. Just keep the nose up and the
speed constant and I'd glide on out.
Speed was getting harder to maintain, and I realised after
checking the gauges that air pressure had been dropping steadily, and therefore,
the props didn't have much air to pull on.
We had been at our top prop speed of 4000 km/h, but were
slowly dropping from that. I took my foot off the accelerator. No dramatic
drop in our speed. I reached over my head. Touched the prop switch off
and engaged the atomic drive. The wing props sucked into the sides of the
ship and the main prop did also, the rudder becoming another streamlining,
heat dissipating fin. The ship lurched a bit as its aerodynamics shifted.
Eat your hearts out NASA, the Russians, and the rest of
the whole darn world! I was the first man to fly to Mars.
I touched the accelerator gently. We jumped ahead. Had
to feel this out. No way to test it at lower altitudes. Controls felt different,
slightly less responsive, no wings.
I held the stick firmly with both hands and squeezed my
legs around it too. The cat crawled into my lap. Hold the stick in one
place and you'll glide gently out of Mother Earth's grip. I steadily applied
pressure to the pedal and kept the nose up. I was sucked back into my seat,
the cat pressing into my gut. Okay. No problem.
The sky grew ever darker. From deep blue it thickened
to indigo and finally pitch black. The whisper of the hull in the thin
air turned into a rattle, mercifully brief, and then utter silence surrounded
us. I kept the thrust on for another ten minutes and then lifted my foot
from the pedal. As my body caught up to the ship, and the cat struggled
to get out of my abdomen, my senses relaxed. I ran a hand across my sweaty
The moon was off to my left, peering over the limb of
the Earth. The cat floated by my right shoulder. Get used to it.
I clicked on the star charts icon on the computer. Okay,
I have my direction. Now today's solar system model. Clicked on the star
field I was facing. I had to turn to face another field. Easy enough. There
was nothing between me and Mars. I would intercept her in the next few
weeks. I unbuckled my seat strap and reached for a CD case under the seat.
I slid the CD into the player.
'on Planet Claire
all the trees are red
'no one ever dies there
no one has a head'
My hand reached out and shut off the alarm. I had quickly
grown to love sleeping in zero-g. It was extremely simple. All you had
to do was string a few straps from your harness to the walls. Sleep came
easy as you floated effortlessly in this womblike atmosphere.
I unhooked myself now. Stretching full out, I woke my
body up. A gentle push on the bulkhead sent me slowly to the back of the
forward cabin. The cat followed me. Here there were a few storage cabinets
and a new bar fridge.
Out of the fridge I pulled a disposable baby bottle liner
filled with a mixture of canned cat food and apple juice. It had a cap
at one end which I unscrewed and attached a rubber nipple in its place.
I grabbed the cat and cradled him while I squeezed the
food into him slowly. He sucked it down and I would be glad to put him
back on solid food as soon as possible. His breath was abominable on the
soft stuff. After he finished that I gave him some water the same way.
My own meal consisted of baby food mixed with a vitamin
powder in, you guessed it, a baby bottle liner, and a similar container
of grapefruit juice.
Eating was a pain. In fact, there was only one thing harder
to do in these conditions, but the less said about that, the better.
My breakfast finished, I bounced lightly to the cockpit
and checked the ship's status.
Nothing much had changed in the last six-and-a-half hours,
except that the red planet was noticeably larger in the star field. I was
still seven hours out. Even after 18 days in space I still stood in awe
of what I was doing. But when it overwhelmed me, I turned my attention
to the activities of course changes, log entries on the computer, and equipment
preparation. This helped me greatly, because if I got lost in myself, my
outward concentration would be pitiful, and that would mean careless errors
leading to God-knows-what.
Everything checked out. I placed a Beatles CD in the player
and quit the cockpit for the rear of the ship again. Opposite from the
food stores was a tall closet attached to the bulkhead. The door rolled
up into the top of the compartment revealing two Martian space suits and
my gear. I pulled my stuff from the closet and closed it up again.
Before I did anything else, I removed the undershorts
and t-shirt that I was wearing and stuffed them into a laundry bag filled
with other dirty clothes. I turned around and pulled a liquid filled container
from one of the cupboards.
Removing the outer plastic lid, it revealed a rubber inner
This had a thin slit in the centre that accommodated my
hand and reaching through I pulled out a sponge now full of water and antiseptic
I sponge-bathed myself and squeezed out the sponge into
a rubber-covered waste tank.
I brushed my teeth and remembered to keep my mouth closed
Feeling a little cleaner, but wanting a good hot shower,
I opened my duffel bag. Time to get ready for my arrival. I pulled on the
dull silver shorts and matching t-shirt that I would wear in the daytime.
Both were lined with a light synthetic that would absorb sweat and keep
it away from my skin. The silver outer layer reflected 70% of the sunlight
and heat that touched it. I also had a body-length poncho made of the same
Next, I put on the shoes I had purchased at the same survival
gear store I had bought most of my personal equipment from. They were flexible
like a rock climbing shoe, but heavy in construction like a good hiking
boot. The shoes were also lined with the sweat absorbing synthetic.
The harness I would wait to put on. It had been vastly
altered from the bejewelled court apparel it once was. I had removed all
the gems and precious metals fro m the leather straps, but I left the house
crest and red gem as the centrepiece. It would identify me to the court
of Helium as a friend. In place of the other ornamentation I had a tailor
sew heavy canvas pouches to the chest straps. These I filled with various
articles which included my Leica M3.
Across my lower back a half-size canvas backpack was attached
to the harness. In it were the gems and metals from the harness, rations,
a first aid kit, lenses & a flash, and an insulated jacket, pants,
& bella clava. I also had a pair of heavy gloves and a lighter leather
pair. Martian nights are cold. And finally, there was a white canvas baseball
cap with a cloth fringe like that on a French Foreign legionnaire's kepi.
Attached to the bottom of the backpack was a very thin, very compact, very
warm sleeping bag.
The radium gun in its new holster I attached to my left
hip. I had adapted a holster I bought to fit the alien weapon.
Last came the long sword, short sword, and dagger. I was
reluctant to attach them, as they would be less than useless in my hands.
Something urged me to carry them, and I went with the feeling.
I stowed everything else in preparation for landing, including
the harness, and slowly collected my thoughts. You may wonder why I chose
to alter the traditional Martian dress and outfit myself for survival when
it was very simple for me to go directly to the court of Helium, be well-received,
and enjoy a visit with the red men of Mars.
There were many things that told me Mars would in all
likelihood be different now.
First and foremost, was the data collected by the NASA/JPL
probes. Mars seemed to be dead. What had happened? What disaster had befallen
this planet? I was heading into an arid wasteland.
Second. Neither John Carter nor Ulysses Paxton had attempted
to communicate with Earth since 1942, not including Carter's belated letter.
It was well known that Burroughs' family had promised to continue publishing
any and all manuscripts received from Mars. Yet, none had materialised.
Third. No matter how good things look, hope for the best,
expect the worst. Only a fool goes in unprotected.
I reduced my speed as I neared Mars' outer moon Deimos.
To achieve this I had to use only one of the three atomic exhaust ports
as a manoeuvring jet, and I swung the shuttle around 180°. Then I used
the opposite port to counter the spin.
A person with the barest knowledge of physics (someone
like myself, for instance ) will understand that this was quite necessary.
Simply cutting the power to the atomic engines would not stop me. In fact,
I had not been using the engines except for course corrections for many
days now. When you are out of the range of a planetary body, or more importantly,
gravity, inertia will keep an object moving if it is moving, or conversely,
at rest if it is at rest.
So having no brakes to slow me down, I applied thrust
into the opposite direction of my course. Slowly I brought up all three
atomic ports and Deimos almost ground to a halt off the port side.
I swung the shuttle around again and there, in the distance,
Phobos rolled across the sky. In a little while it would move out of the
way and I could go forward to attempt a landing without the fear of being
whacked by a moon. I suppose if I had been an experienced pilot, I could
have flown around the satellite, but I felt I had used up too much luck
just to have made it this far. It was time to play things a little safer.
While I waited I took care of a few last minute chores.
I put the cat in his cage, something I had absolutely forgotten to do when
I left Earth. He would be much safer there, and he wouldn't be bothering
me while I went through this crucial operation. Nothing was loose or floating
aimlessly about. I strapped myself in, and then I saw it.
MARS! THE RED PLANET!
I had been approaching it for days, my nose always on
the centre of the disc it showed me, but now!
The grandeur of the vision swept over me. The adrenalin
pulsed through my blood and I felt dizzy for a moment, almost as if I was
going to be sucked into the spinning red depths.
I had crossed the void.
The atomic engine pulsed rhythmically beneath me. Phobos
had passed off to starboard. I swept in gently under its orbit, twisting
the ship to approach Mars on a parallel latitudinal orbit. I looked out
to port. Good. The planet was travelling faster than I was. Given time
my orbit would decay, but if I did this right that wouldn't matter as it
could only be beneficial.
It was more important now that I rolled so that the ship's
belly faced the planet. To accomplish this, I switched over to the air
props, as the atomic engine was useless for this type of move.
I applied power to the starboard boom prop and Mars drifted
under the port side of the shuttle. A little counter force from the port
prop halted my roll. Mars lay under me. The curve of her horizon at the
bottom of the shuttle's nose bubble.
I retracted the props and under the power of the atomic
engine once again, I let the nose dip carefully towards Mars. I applied
little power here, it was on hold in case of an emergency. My right hand
sat on the eighth ray lever, waiting for the moment to use it.
The curve of the horizon had begun to flatten and I could
feel the ship accelerate. Vibrations shuddered softly around me. That was
okay for now. I kept glancing at the hull temperature gauge. It didn't
record anything below -40c, and I could see the logic, because it wasn't
cold that destroyed a spacecraft.
The gauge shot upwards at the same time I saw a cherry
red glow engulf the shuttle's nose. I had been prepared for this, but I
still jumped a bit. No. No panic. I'm okay.
Nice and easy here we go. I tapped the accelerator pedal
lightly and pulled back on the joystick at the same time. The glow faded
from my eye. That's it. Keep the nose up. The hull temperature dropped
a little and then stabilised. I had reached the entry level: the outer
atmosphere of Mars.
I kept the ship as steady as I could. The sky began to
change from its ebon blackness to a deep brown, and a whisper of sound
came from outside the ship. A low scream of rushing air and hot metal comforted
my sound-starved ears. Burgundy gave way to bloody crimson and the ship
became difficult to handle.
I edged the eighth ray control lever forward. The ship
immediately began to rock and buffet, making it incredibly tough to control.
Extending the boom props would have helped stabilise the shuttle, but it
wasn't a good move at this speed. The quiet scream increased to a dull
The tendons stood out on my left arm, as I did my best
to steady the ship. The cat started to yowl in his cage. He never did like
being crated. The vibrations rattled the cabin. MEOW! The stick leapt in
my hand. Hold onto it! MEOW! MEOW! MEOW! I increased the power of the eighth
ray and I was sucked into my seat by the deceleration.
My airspeed dropped noticeably. The stick's response returned
to normal, and I rose in my seat. Against the backdrop of a deep orange
sky, I switched the engines over to the props. We bounced around for a
few moments and then all was still.
MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!
I could hear the... wind, and feel it buffet the hull.
After so many days of utter silence broken only by the stereo or our voices,
it was incredible to be wrapped in a world again.
Then I felt the gravity. Obviously, it had been increasing
steadily, but now I felt my body rest in the seat. The natural tension
had returned to my form.
I descended for a few minutes and the altimeter read 33.5
haads, which I roughly converted to 20 000 metres.
The shuttle was motionless 30 metres from the surface,
suspended by the two full tanks of the eighth ray. I had opened the iris
hatch and stood on the ladder in side the ship, my torso halfway out the
ship like a tank commander's. I slowly rotated left and then right scanning
the horizon with a small, powerful pair of Leitz binoculars.
I had taken the precaution to wear a Martian space suit
when I had first opened the hatch, and I had put the cat in the other one.
Opening the face mask to let in the Martian air had made me more nervous
than the trip here had. Was the air CO2 like the textbooks said? My first,
tentative breath shattered that part of the scientific view of Mars.
It was difficult breathing this hot air, though. It was
thick in CO2, and thin in O2. I had lived much of my life in the British
Columbia mountains, so I wasn't as fatigued as someone who had lived at
sea level. I breathed slowly and deeply , endeavouring to increase my lung
capacity. It would be weeks before my body adapted to this harsh, dying
From horizon to horizon I searched for some signs of life,
past or present.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Descending into my invisible ship I sat down at the controls.
I brought the shuttle within 2 metres of the ground and set forth at a
slow pace. The plain of a dead sea bottom rolled out in front of me. No
ochre moss remained, just a fine iron oxide dust that produced swirling
red clouds when the wind picked it up.
The radar was on. It swept out in front of me, feeling
for shapes. Apart from the stable features of the land around me, the screen
remained blank and impassive .
The Martian radio monitored the airwaves but only static
greeted my ears.
If I could find Helium and if I could reconcile the literary
descriptions of the locations of the Barsoomian city states with my computer
model of Mars, then I would have some clue as to where to search first.
As it was, I only had the roughest of ideas of its location:
probably about 15° south of the equator in the 'western' hemisphere.
I stumbled about the landscape in my ship hoping to get lucky.
The radar caught my attention. It was indicating a large,
no, HUGE mass to the northwest. I turned about and yes, there it was, a
dust storm headed for me at an alarming rate. If the scope was to be believed,
it was going to envelop me in less than thirty seconds. There was no time
to think. It looked to be a few kilometres high, and already the winds
whipped around the shuttle, making it incredibly hard to control. It was
all I could do to hold on to the stick with both hands and try to ascend
above the seething red mass.
Then it was upon me. The bow was pushed viciously upwards
under me. Damn! The prop engines weren't powerful enough to push me through
this. I needed the infinitely more powerful atomic engine.
I clenched my rattling teeth and forced my shaking hand
to the systems panel overhead. I switched over the engines, and that was
all nature needed to throw me helter skelter. The boom props had been acting
as stabilisers, keeping the shuttle somewhat upright. Now, as they retracted,
the twisting airborne sands took the shuttle and threw it over and over,
cartwheeling me through the Martian sky 5 kilometres up. The cat was screaming
hysterically, fear gripped him horribly. Any efforts I made were futile,
complicated by the constantly changing g-forces I was hit with.
It was all taken out of my hands by a wayward piece of
something that broke free and bounced off my skull, sending me into numbing
My right eye won't open. I flex my face. Something
stuck to my face. Stick out tongue to reach some of it. Crusty. Hollow
metal taste. Turns sticky in mouth. Blood. Dried blood.
Arms so sore. Stretched out. Crucified? Left eye looks
out blearily. Between two marble pillars. Chained like Samson. On my knees.
Odd light. There. Not there. Illumination. Revelation.
"A man is only a man when he is fighting. A sword in
his hand is worth more than all the noble sentiments of life."
Who? I can see you.
"Survival can only be assured by constant war upon
your enemies. Peace is tenuous, held only by an armoured fist."
Tall, bronzed demi-god. Regal. Noble. Self-filled.
Thick black hair. Grey eyes. Incredible presence in the shining harness.
Sinewy muscles playing under his supple hide.
"Are there no real warriors left on Jasoom? Are you
all they have left to give? Pathetic."
Tongue thick. Swollen. Dry throat. Speak!
"I...," hesitate, "I am hu-man..."
The skin cracks and the wind carries his dust away.
"I am you, man."
Consciousness slowly returned. My hands rose to my face.
Where the object had hit, dried blood caked a deep gash. No damage to the
eye. My chest was sore where the straps had dug deeply into it. Pulled
a few muscles.
I had been out for two hours. I had no idea where the
sandstorm had carried me, but the shuttle's hull was intact, at least.
Too many warning lights flashed yellow at me. I wouldn't be flying anytime
soon. The cat was okay in his crate, albeit a little thrashed like his
As the shuttle's nose was buried in the sand, I had to
open the iris hatch to find out where we were. I was nervous to do so.
We might be buried under 10 metres of sand or, as the steep forward incline
of the ship indicated, we could be crashed nose first into a sand dune.
I slid the hatch switch. A bit of sand trickled in with
the harsh afternoon light. Donning a pair of sunglasses I clambered out.
The cat followed.
The ship was half-covered in the soil of Mars. It had
come to rest on a shelf near the coastline of one of the ancient seas.
My patience was running bloody thin. This damned anonymous
planet was determined to give up none of its secrets. Was there no one
left? No yellow moss to stop soil erosion. Dirty, dusty place.
Where were the fliers of Helium or the great green hordes
that claimed these dead seas as their territory? No trace left of the ancient
cities that were once the busy ports of Mars' oceanic past.
Had I come only to put a capstone in the dirt?
While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, the cat
had been scratching at something a few yards away. I joined him. There
was something here. I dug at the loose soil. My hands hit something and
I frantically scrabbled to get a purchase on it. The cat was growling,
sensing something was there. Dust flew up in our faces. I sneezed. I was
able at last to grab a piece of it and with both hands I pulled up hard.
Packed dirt fell away in clumps. It was a harness and attached to it was
the corpse of a green warrior. Dried and emaciated it had lain here for
many years. This wasn't much, but at least I didn't feel so crazy about
being here now. Burroughs''s Mars was very real. It still left the question
of how their society and planet had been decimated in a little over forty
I took out the binoculars again. I scanned the coastline.
There must be something here.
Yes. Yes, there was. If you weren't looking for them specifically,
you'd miss them. I retrieved my pack from the shuttle and headed out in
the direction of my discovery.
Walking was difficult but I had been prepared for this.
I took small steps to avoid awkward hopping. I was really in no mood to
go leaping like a frog. However, the cat did a good imitation of a furry
grasshopper. Cats are highly adaptable, like humans. He would soon learn
to restrain his movements like he had had to on the shuttle.
We clambered up the last rise to the 'shore'.
There stood the rubble of a once proud city, now covered
in oxide dust, camouflaging it in the surrounding terrain. This is what
I had seen through the binoculars.
The silence was overwhelming. No birds. No animals. Nothing.
Just crushed pillars and pediments. I brushed away some of the dust with
the back of my hand. Underneath lay the white stone used in these ancient
buildings. I found that it was quite soft. We wormed our way through the
devastation. Statues lay dismembered, half submerged in the sand, their
features worn away by the years.
There was the occasional skeleton of a green man littering
the roadways. Nearly all still had their metal. This puzzled me. A conquering
foe or force always took the vanquished's possessions as proof of conquest.
I stopped at a few of these corpses to remove their pouches only. They
contained several types of Martian currency (for the hordes attacked caravans
of many cities), and numerous vials of a thick, odorous liquid.
This, I hoped, must be the wondrous healing salve that
the green men praised so highly.
No time like the present to try it out. I sat down on
a dusty foundation block and propped up a small mirror, from one of my
pouches, next to me. I cleaned the gash on my forehead with some hydrogen
peroxide and a cotton ball from the first aid kit in my backpack. A small
trickle of blood seeped down my face attempting to form a new scab. Quickly,
I undid the string that held the waxy leather cap on the green glass vial.
I dipped my pinky into the mauve lotion. It tingled slightly. I gently
wiped it into the cut. The bleeding immediately stopped. It burned worse
than the peroxide had, a wisp of purple smoke sliding through my hair.
In a few minutes the wound had closed totally, and only
a bright red scar marked its end.
Yes, that's right folks! Try our new Miracle Martian Ointment!
It cleans up acne ! It destroys warts! It'll even close up that radium
bullethole you got this morning! Only $9.95 when you order today from Marsco!
I guess this was the first pangs of culture shock. I packed
up the stuff I had used and made my way up a rubble strewn hill.
At the summit I found a shaded spot made by the ruins.
After I had pulled something from my rations to eat, and had also fed the
cat, I climbed on top of this makeshift shelter to better scan the entire
city with the binoculars.
The shadows were lengthening in the late Martian afternoon.
A gentle cool breeze swept around me carrying the ever-present dust. I
had at most one hour of daylight left. Swirling crimsons, ochres, and siennas
blazed vibrant brushstrokes across the sky. I might as well head back to
the shuttle and get a good night's rest and really comb these ruins thoroughly
tomorrow, and after that, who knew? I was doing my best not to worry about
being utterly alone on this deserted planet.
I squinted painfully as the harsh sunlight refracted through
the binoculars. Phobos rose and raced across the banded sky, and... eh?
What had I just seen? Movement? Too far away to tell.
Too much light bouncing around the lenses.
I leapt down from my vantage point and bounded in great
jumps across the stone blocks.
I headed further into the ruins. The cat went ballistic
as his proportionately stronger legs met the challenge to keep up with
me. He was a good 50 metres ahead of me when I neared the crumbled wall
I had been observing. What I saw was just beyond it. The cat stood on top
of the wall now, his back arched, tail fluffed, growling an angry challenge
at whatever was beyond. Throwing caution to the wind (for a lack of a better
phrase) I hurdled the low wall and immediately fell 15 metres into a courtyard
which at one time must have been an underground vault. I landed lightly
in 1/3 of the gravity of Earth and my momentum carried me over into a roll.
I followed it through and came to my feet.
Facing me were four green warriors, or what were once
green warriors. They were very emaciated and unhealthy looking, their harnesses
tattered and ill-fitting on their bony structures. Their weapons like their
bodies were covered in dust and grime. Looking past them, there was another
green man, stripped of his harness and weapons (which lay scattered around
him). He was partially conscious and kept trying to get to his feet, but
was bleeding from many wounds and, the most horrible part, his four hands
had been cut off and these lay twitching senselessly in the dirt.
I had little time to contemplate his situation. The four
green men were advancing on me with drawn swords. Great. Just great. John
Carter would surely make quick work of these mangy creatures, but I, stupid
with a sword, had no chance with this type of combat. I had an option though.
One that gave me an edge of surprise and speed.
I unhooked my backpack and sword and dropped them in the
dirt. My adversaries hesitated for a moment. I pressed the advantage.
Running full tilt towards them, screaming at the top of
my lungs, I leapt at the foremost green warrior.
My earthly strength sent me straight for his head, and
snapping a side kick, I crushed his face as if it was an eggshell.
Damn it! NO! That wasn't supposed to happen! I had failed
to reduce the power of my kick in the lesser gravity.
My remaining 4 metre tall antagonists gathered their wits
quickly. No sooner had I alighted some 10 metres away from them, they were
charging me. Please, I don' t want to kill you. There was no strategy apparent
here, just cut me down and be done with it. They seemed to move so slowly.
God, I had no choice. I ripped open a pouch on my harness and withdrew
a throwing star, a shuriken, and whipped it at the central green man. I
struck him in the upper chest, slicing through his parchment-like hide.
He pitched over, clutching at the drooling wound. The warrior on his left
stopped to aid his companion. Why this warrior of a cold and compassionless
race did this I did not know, though it probably saved my life and allowed
me to do what I did next.
The warrior who was still coming for me drew back his
sword arm, intent on cleaving me in two with one swing.
I let him rush me, and as he swung down his arm I ducked
under that deadly arc, gripped his harness, and using his momentum threw
him across the courtyard, where he sprawled out like a starfish.
He was dazed but quickly regained his knees and was about
to rise to his full height when I was upon him.
I loosed a spinning kick that snapped his head viciously
to the right , breaking his fragile (by Earth standards) neck. He twitched
spasmodically, his body not knowing that it was dead. A coldness possessed
me and I shook with shock, fear, disgust: a hundred emotions at once overloading
my mind. Tears streamed down my dusty face.
My last attacker must have thought enough was enough and
drew his radium pistol. Why had he not attacked me when the advantage was
two-to-one? I couldn't have warded off two opponents at once. It takes
more time to write this than to experience the actual moment, but when
I saw the green man draw, I instinctively reached for my own pistol. My
faster reflexes notwithstanding, he had the drop on me. No shot came from
him and I was about to squeeze the trigger when I looked at him. It took
a second for the idea of him as a target to dissipate, but then I saw him.
He had not left the side of his dying comrade. The resigned
look in his eyes said, "Shoot. Go ahead. What is the point?" The skin around
his mouth sucked back and forth around his long, yellowed tusks.
My pulse slowed and I lowered my pistol and turned away
from him. He shuffled behind me and I turned my head back to see him lift
the dead Martian in his four arms.
His pistol lay in the dirt and he climbed over the rubble
with his burden.
I lost sight of him in the ruins of the once beautiful
buildings of ancient Mars, the dust swirling amidst shattered columns and
My martial efforts had cost me. Wasn't... quite... used...
to this... little... oxygen.
I sank to my knees and laboured to breathe slowly and
deeply. My meal of a few minutes ago ignobly decorated the stone floor.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and the spots disappeared from
I looked around. They were dead Martians, but they were
still dead men who had died because of me.
Their dried blood was upon my hands.
I had never killed anyone before. It didn't matter that
the situation was kill-or-be-killed. It had been too easy. What had happened
to all my beliefs about the sanctity of life? By leaving Earth, was I free
from my self-imposed morality? Was coming to Mars a catharsis revealing
my true self? This comatose planet was powerful indeed.
I broke a cold sweat and shivered horribly. How ill-prepared
I was for this world. Romantic fool!
My meanderings were cut short by a scan of the courtyard.
The cat was sitting by the amputee green warrior, looking
perplexed. One tentative paw, then another, snaked out to flick at the
I arose and walked over to his body. He was face down
in the dirt. I rolled him over. His breath came in ragged gasps. So many
wounds. He was alive, but would not be for much longer if I did not do
I raced over to one of the dead men and cut free his harness
with my dagger. I cut the leather into long strips. These I tied around
the four stumps, staunching the flow of blood from them. I spread copious
amounts of the salve I had on the stumps. The green warrior groaned pitifully
in his delirium.
I went and grabbed my backpack and sword. Kneeling again
beside him I observed the many deep sword cuts on the front of his body.
It took almost all the salve I had to cleanse and dress these.
I took the canteen from my harness and let some water
dribble between his lips, holding his head up. He coughed feebly, trying
to move his swollen tongue.
"Easy," I said, "easy." I tried to keep the tone of my
voice as gentle as possible. I poured a little more water into his mouth.
He ran it around his mouth before swallowing it. He was coming around.
I poured some of the cool liquid over his parched face. His eyes cracked
open. No recognition at first. Then fear. Then anger. He struggled weakly
to get to his feet in a bid to kill me, I guess. My knee on his upper chest
kept him where he was.
"Please, just relax. You'll live." I wasn't sure of this.
He raised his stumps shakily and squinted at them in the late afternoon
light. A defiant groan escaped from his lips. He twisted his head around
to look for his hands. They lay there in the dust, already looking as if
they had been baking in the sun for years. The Martian atmosphere is so
moisture-barren that it sucks any water it can get out of the dirt and
the living creatures upon it. The hands and the dead green men were little
more than skeletons with a tanned hide stretched across them.
He sank back down. I brought the canteen to his lips again.
He drank deeply. "That's enough for now. Let's get you out of here." I
replaced the canteen after taking a sip.
I helped him to his feet, which wasn't that difficult.
On Earth he would have weighed around 200 kilos if he wasn't dehydrated
like this. On Mars, which as I said was roughly 1/3 terran gravity, he
would weigh 67 kilos. This decimated green man weighed barely 50 kilos
by my guess. He was an ungainly thing, though. Kind of like putting up
an aerial on the roof of your house in a high wind.
I had my arm around his waist to support him. He was terribly
weak. I was leading him to the opposite side of the courtyard where we
could find an easier way back to the shuttle when he stopped me. He pointed
a stump towards his harness and weapons. His metal. He felt naked. I understood
and led him back to his possessions. Propping him up against a wall I turned
around and bent over to retrieve the harness when he drop kicked me in
I flew through the air in that lower gravity and landed
on my back with a sickening thud on the hard stone floor. I hate it when
someone does that to me. It's not so much the pain but the hollow numbness
that overcomes you. The bottom of the world drops out and you gag and you
When the stars cleared, I rolled over to face him. He
still held the wall up, glaring at me in the rapidly fading light. I lifted
myself gingerly to my feet and tiptoed over to the green bastard. I stood
there waiting for the inevitable.
Presently, the light went out behind his eyes and he pitched
forward. I caught him in my arms. I stuffed his things into my harness
and balanced him precariously across my shoulders.
Still not feeling quite right, and really not being able
to see where the heck I was going, I let the cat lead us out of the courtyard.
The Martian night had arrived with little warning, and
with it, a sudden drop in temperature, but I was more concerned with the
possibility of ambush. I had neither heard nor observed any other green
men or any of their fierce mounts, the wild thoat. The men I had killed
were probably just a wandering group, but I was relieved when we at last
came to the shuttle.
I opened the hatch and stuffed the green bastard inside.
My groin still ached. The cat hopped up onto the hull and dropped lightly
inside. I descended into the dimly lit cabin myself and slid the switch
that closed the iris hatch.
I removed my gear. He really had done a number on my privates.
I reached into the fridge and retrieved some ice from the freezer. After
wrapping it in a towel I applied it to my tender flesh, and in a few minutes
the cold had numbed the throbbing ache.
I turned around to face my charge. He lay with his feet
close to me, his head at the other end of the cabin. Why couldn't they
grow them smaller? I picked my way nimbly around him to get to his arms.
An examination of one of the stumps revealed that the salve had cauterised
the wounds. Scar tissue was beginning to form. The tourniquets would do
more harm than good now. He needed the blood (what was left of it) to reach
the stumps to keep the remaining flesh healthy. I loosened the leather
straps, and the blood turned the green skin a sickly red underneath. The
sealed veins and arteries held.
I attempted to bring the cabin lights up. The damaged
circuitry fizzled and popped and I was rewarded with lights at half-power.
My eyes marvelled at this strange being before me. Burroughs'
words echoed in my mind. John Carter had done well in describing the green
Martians, so I will not quote his words, but simply add my own thoughts
and observations to the record.
His two chests rose and fell in slow alternating rhythms.
His body must be given air constantly through this action. A decided advantage
in this harsh atmosphere. I was gently awed with his restful breathing.
Here he lay, with what dreamed thoughts I did not know, but with the simple
purpose of being alive. Not a trace of warrior's fury was captured in that
face, just simple calm. He could have been an old man or a hatchling, his
features benign and impassive. In all my life I could never have imagined
A love of science fiction in all its forms had paved the
way for a fantastic imagination, but the best Hollywood special effects
crew could only capture his form and never the animation that life had
breathed into this giant. This was no make-up wizardry. He was real and
I pushed a CD into the player. Nothing. No music. I was
"Yay," I muttered.
I pulled a sponge out, soaking it with soapy water. I
wiped his body down, cleansing him. Even in repose he was magnificent.
He awoke while I was buffing his tusks. I expected the worst. As much as
I admired nature's design in him, he was a complete unknown. My fists clenched.
There was something new in his eyes. No belligerence,
just solemn acquiescence. My fists turned into hands and I helped him to
a sitting position. His head just cleared the cabin ceiling. He looked
at me. A smile, then a laugh, crossed his lips.
"Seepo no tanda," he said in a creaky voice.
"Likewise," I said with a warm smile. "I'm sure you're
hungry. Let me get you something to eat." I left him to go to the cupboard.
I was just about to open it when he started to fade out on me again. He
was wobbling on four elbows when I quickly returned to him and propped
him up against the bulkhead.
I went back to the cupboard and slid the door back only
to have its contents disgorge themselves upon me.
One metal tin whucked me in the forehead and I fell back,
"Hur hur hur..." came the wheezing laugh from my charge.
"I can tell we are going to get along just fine," I replied,
I opened a tin of fruit cocktail and a box of crackers.
Armed with a spoon I attempted to feed him.
"Panto nak shum!" he growled.
"Oh, shut up." Stubborn ass. I shoved the spoon into his
"Until you're stronger you're going to have to learn to
be dependent. SO EAT YOU STUPID GREEN BASTARD!"
He chewed and gulped. The mouth opened again. We had achieved
communication. I fed him the can of fruit and he ate it quickly. Hopefully,
it would give him a bit of quick energy.
I opened the crackers and started popping them into his
mouth. I ate a couple myself. The cat sat a few feet away, alternately
eying the green man and the crackers. The cat loved crackers, but would
not come closer to the Martian while he was awake and moving.
"It's all right, cat, he won't hurt you," I called to
him, but he would not budge. A little warbling murmur was his only response.
He readjusted his weight on his paws. I threw him a cracker and he proceeded
to gnaw on it.
I looked back at the green guy. He was looking depressed
and I could wholly sympathise. He had had one hell of a day.
"My name is Chester," I started, pointing to my chest,
He blinked and chewed.
"Who are you?" I pointed to him. "You? What is your name?"
He got the idea and attempted to speak, but his throat wouldn't let any
"Oh geez, the crackers are drying you up aren't they."
I felt a little like an idiot. He was a person who was dehydrated, and
I was soaking up all the liquids in his mouth. At least I hadn't put peanut
butter on the crackers.
"Just give me a minute," I said, getting up and making
for the fridge. I pulled a jug of skim milk out.
From behind me the cat hissed. Mr. Green Jeans was attempting
to grab him, his tusks snapping at the cat's batting paws.
"Hey, hey, hey, 'Ey!" I snapped, running over cuffing
the green guy on the back of the head. "You don't eat the cat!" I picked
up the cat. "See, cat. No good to eat, give you a fur ball," I said, making
spitting noises and an ugly face. Then calmer, I pet the animal and made
soothing sounds. I put him down and he ran off.
The warrior was sulking again. I poured some milk into
a cup and held it up to his lips. His pride recovered more quickly than
the last time, and with a sigh he relaxed and opened his mouth. He swallowed
the liquid and made motions that he wanted more.
I wiped the milk moustache off his lip with a cloth. I
started to pour him another cup, when he indicated that he wanted the jug.
I held it out and he squeezed it between his four stumps and raised it
to his lips. He chugged it down and emptied it totally. Finally he lowered
it and took a deep breath and belched loudly, the sound reverberating off
the hull. I had to laugh, and he laughed back. Then he delicately set down
the empty container, pointed to himself, and said, "Sakoma Nu."
"Good to meet you, Sakoma Nu."
"Ches-, Ches-tur, Chestur?"
"That's right, Sakoma."
"Mohk-tu neela Jasoom?" he asked.
"Yes, yes Sakoma! I'm from Jasoom! I'm from Earth!" I
was elated. Perhaps he knew of John Carter or Ulysses Paxton's whereabouts.
I asked him as much, stressing the names. Paxton drew
a blank, and I did not take much hope in his reaction to Carter's name.
He sneered and spat out some words, one of which I thought was 'ulsio'.
That sounded familiar and I thought hard to remember that
ulsio was the word for the Martian rat. This furrowed my brow and only
added to my worry. Not only was Mars a barren husk of a once-teeming planet,
what should be one of this world's greatest leaders was being compared
to vermin .
I looked back up at Sakoma. He was looking tired, but
his green colour was becoming more even. I took that as an indication that
the food he had eaten was doing its job. "I guess you could use some sleep,"
I said, and got up to get some blankets for the floor.
I returned with a foam mattress and spread the blankets
on it beside him. I tossed a pillow up by his head, and made the sign of
sleep to him: I rested my held on my flattened hands. He nodded and stretched
out. He looked up at me and made the same sign. I shook my head no, and
tried to communicate that I had to fix the ship.
He nodded and settled back. I think it took him all of
30 seconds before I heard the deep, regular breath of sleep come from him.
"Tomorrow, we have to start learning each other's language," I said softly
at him from across the room, "I have to know what happened here." My eyes
bored at him intensely, and then I turned my attention to the ship.
It took me about an hour to straighten things up. Very
little of my provisions were damaged. Further examination of the ship's
systems revealed that they would need a bit of work, but given time, I
would be able to fix most of them. The main battery had been ripped free
from the power conduits and once I had reconnected it, power returned to
I raised the ship out of the sand by rocking it back and
forth. The sand fell from the nose cone and the glittering blackness of
the Martian night revealed itself. The ship was not handling very well,
some of the control surfaces had been damaged. I flew the craft slowly
to a rocky hollow and set it down. I had been working on the ship for three
hours since Sakoma had gone to sleep, and now I was very tired myself.
The rest of the repairs would have to wait until morning. I turned on the
invisibility screen, and crawled into my sleeping bag. The cat was already
in there, and I fell asleep as my head touched the pillow.