Volume 6233

The Cods of Mars
By Rick Norwood

 Mars, as every schoolboy knows, has many strange and wonderful creatures, but none more strange or more wonderful than the carnivorous codfish that surf the ocher sands of our dying planet.

 I sat on my amber throne listening to a tale of woe, told by a rich merchant whose caravan had been attacked by the awful fish. In a flash, I saw the solution to all his problems.

 “Carry with you swift fighting falcons, who will dive into the sand and devour those craven codfish,” I told him, “for is it not written, a bird in the sand is worth two in the fish.”

 The rich merchant looked pained, so I dismissed him with a wave of my hand. Doubtless he was eager to put my clever plan into action.

It was time for me to leave my audience chamber and descend into the catacombs below the palace, where the ancient sages of Mars were preserved in a frozen slush. I opened the skylight which focused the rays of the sun onto these all-knowing ancients. 

“Did ya thaw us?” the sages asked.

 “Yes,” came a voice behind me. It was my beautiful Martian princess.

 “I was just consulting the soggy sages,” I told her. “Oh great wise men, what new danger threatens the rightful government of the planet Mars, namely myself?”

 “Beware!” cried the ancients. “The Pied Piper of Mars commands the carnivorous fish.”

 “Where can I find this foul fiend?” I asked.

 Soon I was speeding above the shifting sands, driving my living car. On Mars, cars are green, have wheels, and grow around the house.

 I had just passed a large billboard reading “Visit Helium. It’s a gas,” when I lost control of my vehicle and crashed into a sand dune. Fortunately I was thrown clear, but my air car was totaled. “Alas,” I cried, “My poor car’s carcass.”

 “You called, Master?”

 It was my Barsoom buddy, the fifteen foot tall, four-armed green man.

 “You are just in time to help me capture the Pied Piper of Mars.”

 “Always glad to help,” the green man said. “I assume he wants to overthrow the rightful government of Mars, namely yourself.”

 “That he does, old friend.”

 Off we jogged, beneath the hurtling moons. Soon we reached the city where the perfidious piper had his hideout.

 “Quick,” I said. “We must disguise ourselves so that the Piper does not suspect.” I used berries from a nearby bush to die my skin red, while my fifteen-foot friend disguised himself as best he could by putting a lampshade on his head.

 I noticed that a nearby shop had a sign in the window that read, “Delivery man wanted.” Just the thing, I thought. I’ll take the job, and in the guise of an innocent delivery man I’ll approach the Piper’s hideout unnoticed.

 “I’m your new delivery man,” I told the person behind the counter. “Got anything for me to deliver to the Pied Piper of Mars?”

 “You’re just in time,” he said. “The Pied Piper has ordered one of those new flush toilets.”

 “What!” I cried. “You want me to be a toilet toter, a commode carrier, a … a… .” I couldn’t say it. It was unthinkable. “To hell with disguises,” I said, and charged the Piper’s hideout.

 Suddenly, from within, came a scream. A familiar scream. “My princess,” I cried. I dashed down a darkened corridor, saw my beautiful wife and ran toward her. Too late, I discovered it was a trap. A cell door clanged shut behind me.

 “My hero!” the princess cried. “I ask nothing more than to have you beside me when I die.”

 “I still live!” I cried.

 “Not for long,” said the Piper, who had crept up behind us. He began to play on his pipes, and I noticed that the floor of the cell was sand. In that sand, I knew, was a school of carnivorous codfish. The eerie strains of his mad melody was driving them into a frenzy.

 Things looked bad, when suddenly the ceiling of our cell broke open and a huge, green arm reached down and lifted my princess to safety. Another arm lifted me through the hole in the roof. Another arm grabbed the Pied Piper. And yet another arm snapped his mystic pipe like a toothpick.

 “How did you ever find us,” I asked.

 “Four armed is forewarned,” he explained.

 “Why do you have a lampshade on your head?” my princess asked.

 A few short hours later, the Mad Piper was in prison and I bid a fond farewell to my fifteen-foot friend. My princess and I urged our giant mounts away across the desert sands.

 Suddenly, without warning, a fearsome beast sprang upon my princess’s steed. It was a lunk, a terrifying creature with razor-sharp teeth. I drew my sword, but before I could strike, my wife’s mount snapped up the creature and swallowed it whole.

 I turned to my wife and saw a tear glisten on her soft cheek. “Why, Princess, you’re crying.”

 “It’s nothing,” she replied. “I just have a lunk in my thoat.”

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Rick Norwood was born in 1942, has a Ph. D. in mathematics and teaches at East Tennessee State University.

Rick has published many articles on subjects both technical and popular, including one article entitled "Why 2 + 2 = 2 x 2". 

He has sold fiction to Analog, F&SF, and many other magazines and anthologies, and has edited and published many books and magazines, including many comic strip reprints.

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