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Volume 6266

From the Rick Johnson Barsoom Fiction Series
Part 1: Chapters I-II (part 2 continued next week at 6267)
By Rick Johnson

I originally started this some years ago when I was doing Eibhlin’s biography
but when the banth arrived,
I stopped, lost or blocked until today when, looking it over,
I realized where the story was going.
As often when writing about women,
I was completely wrong!

More ERB Art in Much Larger Images at:

I. Mars was never made for humanity. 

The planet’s low mass ensured that the planetary core had cooled and without a viscous molten-iron core to generate a Van-Allen Belt, the solar radiation struck the planetary surface without mercy, condemning the unprotected to a nasty but quick death by skin cancer.

That same lack of mass caused the atmosphere to leak away despite the work of the main atmosphere plant built dozens of thousands of years ago to replace the air lost to space.  Since the disaster of the 1870s (Earth time) where both Atmosphere Attendants had died and almost took the planet with them, most nations had, for once, banded together to build a second Atmosphere Plant near the Artolian Hills and a third near Horz.  But still, a Human on Earth could breath three miles above sea level, on Mars, you would be lucky to survive three thousand feet.

And the air, such as it was, had too much Carbon-Dioxide for human lungs which resulted in an almost constant migraine.  Added to the cold and thinness of the air, pneumonia among Humans on Mars was as common as … well, if you didn't cough up green slime every other month, you weren't on Mars.

As the atmosphere leaked away, the evaporation and boiling point of water  lowered, causing the seas to vanish, the remaining water being locked into the soil with a little of that evaporated water freezing at the poles before it vanished into space.  Thus water was constantly vanishing from the ever growing desert planet.

And the 38% gravity robbed human bones of calcium and human muscles of strength so within months, you would be as weak as a baby were you to return to Earth.  Any tourist would spend too much time in the gym stressing their body and drinking calcium-rich drinks to barely survive.  Fortunately, the mantilla was calcium-rich but that didn't slow the anemia heart degeneration that slowly destroyed the human body over time.

And if that wasn't enough, the biology was.. wrong.

It was a coin-flip if the biological molecules that produced Carbon-based life would be left-hand like Earth or right-hand like half the other worlds in the galaxy.  Mars had left-hand molecules but the exact molecules were often wrong.  The Martians used Potassium Chloride instead of Sodium Chloride and many of the spices used for cooking were poisonous to Humans.  So a diet on Mars was often deadly or bland, Mantilla Milk and Soropus being the staple for non-Martians with the occasional reptile that could be safely digested… in small amounts.  Even the Martian wine ate its way through a Human system causing intoxication but within an hour, your stomach would cramp and your stools would be greeninsh-water.  Getting drunk on Mars was not fun.

Life had evolved or arrived on  Mars some 23 million years ago, or so the Red Men believed, back when the planet had somehow developed oceans of liquid water.  Since then that narrow window was closing and Mars was returning to its long-dead past.  Life on Mars would be extinct in another hundred thousand years, if it managed that long.  Only the supreme efforts of the Red Men had kept the planet alive this long and even their efforts were failing.

So how did Humans survive when they first arrived how many millennia ago?  That was the question that Eibhlin asked often and the answer was that most did not.  Occasionally a human body would be found in the Great Desert.  But the number of humans who had arrived and managed to survive was… very small.    And those that managed to reproduce children that lived was very small.  Modern Barsoomians lived only because their ancestors had simply adapted to the problems and forced the planet to tolerate them.

She had met Vad Varo once.  Formerly Ulysses Paxton of America who had died in The Great War of 1917 and been, somehow, transported, intact and healthy, to Barsoom.    But that was only a reprieve, not a pardon, and the planet was killing him.  He aged as a Human would, and between age and the planet, he was already dead. He just refused to admit it for Ras Thavas, the Mastermind of Mars, spent a great deal of time and energy keeping him alive.  Though most agreed that the Mastermind's efforts were more self-centered than altruistic for Paxton was the only person Ras Thavas trusted.  And that trust allowed Ras Thavas to continue to live for he needed a doctor as did everyone else, only Ras Thavas had made mistakes and only the Earthman had never betrayed the Mastermind so Ras Thavas went to great trouble to keep Vad Varo alive.

Vad Varo, as he preferred to be called, had been in communication with a Canadian on Earth, a Professor Valdron, and between the two had decided that the Martian race had originally come from Earth long ago by a means similar to that which brought John Carter, Ulysses Paxton and possibly even Eibhlin Ui Bhrian herself to the Red Planet.  The two believed that Man had died on Earth and been astral-transported to Mars where a new body had, somehow, materialized for their use.  Most had died but some very few hardy individuals had managed to survive and breed and adapt, eventually producing the three main ‘Human Races’ of Mars, adapted to that planet.  Eibhlin was a technician, not a medical person so understood little of what he told her but she walked away wondering if the original humans had appeared as Barsoomians (according to the Canadian) or had adapted and evolved into the Barsoomian (according to the American).  She herself had appeared as her now ‘normal’ Weir self and not as she had been born in Ireland in 1635.  Personally, Eibhlin believed that the creation of a physical body for those souls who Transited to Mars was proof of the existence of God.  The fact that the dead reanimated on Mars instead of Heaven proved the existence of Satan.  Or that God was a real sick bastard. Being an Irish Catholic, she could easily accept this heresy.

Vad Varo had described a dozen Earthlings who had appeared on Barsoom, John Carter being only the most famous and successful.  He mentioned a dozen more that had been found, dead, and he had shown her the bodies that he and Ras Thavas kept in storage for experimental and research purposes.  It was unspoken that they also were organ donors for Vad Varo. Eibhlin found the idea of all those unfortunate people who had died on Earth and been transported to Mars for a second chance.. a second chance that ended on a slab in a medical research facility, to be sad and so refused to return.

So now she wandered the streets of Amhor, taking in the sights for Amhor had been built on a plateau that was once an underwater island but the city was still low enough for her to breathe.  She had heard that Helium, that Twin Jewel of the South, had a tower in each city, a tower that rose a mile high.  She had wondered if the tower was enclosed to contain air or had pumps forcing air the entire height or if the Barsoomian body was simply able to breathe in air that would suck the lungs from an Earthling's chest.  Did John Carter visit those towers and if so, did he wear a space suit or O2-mask?  But then, John Carter was an anomaly.  A Human who refused to follow Human rules.

A self-proclaimed immortal, he claimed to have always been 30-ish and remembered years of war, constantly unchanging.  But how old he was, even he did not know.  He had fought in the American War Between the States and probably as far back as the American Revolutionary War… maybe even further?  He remembered fighting under General Muhlenberg in Virginia and before that… almost nothing for his earliest memories were of being a thirtyish fighting man a century before he wrote of his adventures on Mars, which would perhaps make him a veteran of the War of 1812.  She never met the man so couldn't ask.  But it would be interesting.

She still had a few more days in Amhor before she had to return to Ptarth so she looked over the city.

Amhor was a small kingdom that was based on a former island across the straight from the Toonol Highlands that helped establish the Toonolian Marshes.  It was mostly rock and moss but as the seas receded, Amhor followed the slope into the rich loam of the sea bottom.  Lacking the Green Hoards of the Southern Highlands, they were able to establish broad farms on the dead sea-bed and as the Waterways were built, Amhor took control of two of them, eventually building a couple subject cities along the waterways to the east.   Today, Amhor was a wealthy farming nation that exported food and meat-thoats that they raised in the rich sea beds near the Waterways and lowland farms, the most valuable being on the plateau itself, reserved for the farms and ranches of the Nobles and wealthy.

She entered an eating establishment and placed her order by touching buttons on a menu, noting also her table, then sat and waited.  Water, mantilla milk and unflavored sorapus mash for it was rare when she could find a meal she enjoyed.  Then she opened the cylinder that Vad Varo had given her and took her daily pills.  Vitamins to replace what Martian food could not, counter-agents for the toxins the Red Men tolerated but she could not and others.  She hated Mars.

Her meal arrived via an opening in the table, prepared, cooked and delivered without human touch.  It was a totally automated establishment but she missed the waiters and waitresses that even star-spanning worlds found desirable.  She ate, slowly, not savoring the meal for it had no flavor, but she smelled the meals of the other customers and pretended that was her own meal she smelled.  She also pretended that the Red Men and Women around her were not staring at her alien features and weapons.  Women on Mars never went about armed and female Panthans, mercenaries, were very rare.  Plus the only other known Race on Mars were the Green Men who would not visit Amhor so she attracted attention because of her tail, feet, hands and eyes.  At least the Vanthi, descended from British Saxons but now a dozen thousand light-years away, rarely stared because any race that possessed interstellar travel, quickly got used to aliens.  Mars did not.  His (Earth was female, Mars was male) only Visitors were from Earth and they could pass for natives with little effort.  Eibhlin could not.

God she hated Mars.

She walked to the stables and saddled her thoat, a much larger and hardier plow beast than what was ridden by the Red Men. Eibhlin was short, barely a couple inches over five feet and so looked up to even the Red Women, but her body had evolved on Earth and so her bones and muscles were denser and heavier than that of any Red Man.  (one Red Man, a foot larger than she, had struck her, breaking his fist upon her chin, she barely receiving a painful bruise, though the blow had knocked her to the floor)  Plus when the Demons had abducted her, they made her stronger and, heavier so she could easily break the fragile back of a normal riding thoat, her thoat was a throwback to the earlier stock from which the Red Men bred their modern beasts.  Larger and stronger, it was a monster by Red Man standards though still a runt when compared to those rode by the Green Men. Riding the thing, she felt like when she was a child in Ireland mounted upon the horse her father had given her.  Still, she could ride it for hours before her weight tired the beast and forced her to walk it.  Even a creature evolved to run for days across the Martian landscape tired under her mass.

Four Waterways connected at Amhor, each having a massive pumping station at the base of the plateau to force the water up to the city.  Then the water crossed the plateau and fell to the next station that forced the water south into the Toonol Hills and west into Ptarth.  On Earth the exiting stations would generate electricity to power the rising pumps.  On Mars, nuclear power, Radium power, did that cheaper, safer and with far more power.   Eibhlin avoided these as well for the as Red Man had adapted to the constant UV bombardment, they had also developed a certain immunity to Radiation sickness and so Radium Reactors were poorly shielded.

Even in wartime, Amhor continued to send water to their enemies, a situation that she found unexplainable.  If Amhor were at war with Ptarth, why not close the waterways and force them to Terms through starvation and thirst?  Or toss a couple long-dead thoats into the waterway to poison Ptarth?  Such actions were common in Europe and her own grandfather had built a catapult to throw dead and diseased pigs into English strongholds to spread Plague amongst the invading ranks.

But Barsoom had honor in their wars.  Amhor and every other nation would continue to send clean water downstream even to their enemies.  If a Red Man attacked you with a revolver and you drew your short-sword, your attacker would holster his revolver and draw his own short-sword to meet you on equal terms.  In Ireland, if a British soldier did that, she would have shot him dead without a thought.  But Eibhlin had spent enough time on enough different planets to no longer concern herself with local customs.  It was enough that she obeyed them and so, prevented being stoned or lynched.

Thus her current dress… or undress.  She would rather be wearing her Spacers jump-suit or even the long dress that she wore in Ireland.  But here, she wore what the locals wore which was almost nothing.  At least, in Amhor, and thanks to Vad Varo who had encouraged fashion change in his adopted Amhor and her Allies, Eibhlin was able to cover her breasts.  In Ptarth, which saw being topless as fashionable, she was always.. pointing… in the cold.  And at 45 degrees north latitude (about Northern Italy or the great Lakes of America), Winter was painful at best.

Eibhlin attracted attention a lot!  Born human in Ireland in 1635, she had been raped and killed by British soldiers when she was seventeen and immediately afterwards, her body was taken by alien Demons, changed and then reanimated simply because the aliens needed someone to repair their ship and she was convenient.

Were she still human, she could pass for native, were she to dye her skin.  But now, with pointed ears, cat eyes (they called them banth eyes), moth-like antennae, an extra thumb where her smallest finger used to be, a three-foot prehensile tail and ape feet, she couldn't hide her new anatomy and so stuck out.  Plus the Demons had increased her bust from her normal small B to a large C or small D (by American terms) which she disliked.  Not that they gave her back-ache, her new body prevented that and kept them firm for the centuries of her new life.  And in this 1/3g, even floppy breasts would firm up as if they were floating in water.   No, they simply got in the way sometimes and on a planet where few women had anything to fill a training bra, she was seen as obscenely large like that porn film she once watched on Earth.  The one where all the women had so much silicon shoved into their chests that they could barely stand up, yet happy to service that .. man who was as large as a horse.  Did the words, ‘too much’ mean anything to those women?

Well, the fact that she wore a male harness modified to be slightly feminine and weapons didn't help either.  On Earth, in Ireland, women wore dresses and men wore pants and only men carried a sword.  In America, women wore feminized pants and feminized shirts (mostly) which her Irish upbringing told her was like being a transvestite.  Here they thought the same, a female dressed as a man.  A female upsetting convention and playing at being a man.  A female messing with tens of thousands of years of tradition.

Only her being an Alien helped.  Aliens like her were seen as being barbarians and so not knowledgeable of proper fashions.  So they tolerated her… but only barely, staring openly and snickering behind her back.  And the fact that she was easily four times as strong as any Red Male, faster and could jump over their heads easily, only forced grudging tolerance.

She left the city, the guards looking over her identity papers as an excuse to stare.  Aside from Vad Varo and a few escaped Hormads from Toonol a few decades ago, they saw only Red Men.  The occasional Thern Panthan didn't count and even those usually wore black or brown wigs now to blend in.   Eibhlin’s white skin and black hair also confused the locals for White skin and brown hair indicated a lost White Race, the original Orovars, white skin and baldness or blonde wig indicated a Thern but black hair belonged to the Red, Yellow and Black races.

“Are you leaving Amhor?” the guard asked, his fellows watching close.

“No, I am just playing tourist.”

“Tourist?  I don't understand the word?”

She had used the English word for neither the Irish-Gaelic of her time nor Barsoomian had any such concept.  “I like to see new things so I am going for a ride to look over your city.”  She explained.

“Like a spy?” he said cautiously.  Though an adequate swordswoman, her curved and guardless sword had been made by aliens and was stronger than any forundus steel blade they owned. Plus her Beamer could easily cut them all down in a second but killing them would cause her and Ptarth trouble.

Sighing, “No, not a spy.  Panthans, many panthans, travel because they are bored with their homes and want to see new places.  I cannot go home so I travel and see new things.”  Seeing their look of incomprehension, she tried again. “Do you eat the same meal every day?  You enjoy eating different meals.  To me, seeing new cities and scenery is like a meal.  I travel to taste new sights, see new people, make new friends.”

They still didn't understand but let her go.  She was, after all, a ‘warrior’ of the House of Far of the Jeddakate of Ptarth and so under diplomatic protection.  To cause her trouble would be to have to explain to the Jed of Amhor why the Jeddak of Ptarth (one of the planet’s great superpowers) was angry with Amhor (which it could crush so easily).  So Eibhlin mounted her thoat and wandered off across the plateau.

The land was rocky, mostly brown with sparse moss here and there, being grazed by the herds of thoats that roamed the land.  She stopped and watched one herd, obviously bred for eating, nervously move away.  The size of her thoat triggered the instinct to avoid for the smaller thoats were often killed by banths and even the larger wild thoats that were ridden by the Green Hoards.

Still, there were no hoards this far north. They remained in the southern highlands.. mostly.  Of course, when she had first arrived on Barsoom, she had met and killed two members of the Huntdoon Hoard, a smaller Green hoard that had been pushed north to the area around Koal by their larger and crueler neighbors.  Still, there was the entire Toonol Marsh to act as a buffer and keep the Huntdoon localized.

She rode off, north this time until she found the waterway that led from the northern pumping station to feed Amhor. Being the main one into the city, the waterway was huge.  Buried deep underground, water was siphoned off to feed the miles wide belt of food crops that followed almost every waterway on Barsoom.  As the water was fed directly to the roots, none was lost and the idea of an open aqueduct was unknown on Mars.    Eibhlin waved to the workers as the Nobles assigned to guard these valuable areas moved to stand between her and they.  Had she moved towards the farmlands, they would have intercepted her but so long as she rode alongside, the guards were content to follow at a distance.  For all she knew, they may not even recognize her as a woman or alien at that distance.

A number of the workers were naked and wearing collars, slaves or prisoners of war she supposed.  But here and there she saw the occasional freeman, armed but working to pay off the celibacy tax that all Martian governments imposed.  Why a planet with such reduced resources would punish a confirmed bachelor for NOT overpopulating the planet was beyond her.  Did they punish the women for failing to breed too?  Probably, but not in this way.  Celibate women where probably working off their taxes in the city as street cleaners or such.

Eventually she reached the edge of the rise.  The slope was gradual at first then sharp to the dead seabed below.  As Throxeus receded, the city had followed and farms prospered as they found the exposed silt to be rich and a boom for their crops.  So the crops that started out following the waterways, now spread further and on the bed, they were scattered here and there as the farmers found rich silt and moisture traps in the depressions.  Up here, high, the ground was rocky and brown, but down there, hundreds of feet below, the ground turned bright red and yellow as the ochre moss abounded.  Down there were the fattest thoats but also the dangerous banth that fed upon the herds despite the attempts of the Red Men to keep them away. Any beast that could take a dozen nuclear rounds from a Radium Revolver and still kill the holder before it died was not a beast she wanted to face.

She stood at the edge, on a rock and looked into the distance at the too close red ground and pink sky and breathed the cold air.  Down below the air would be denser and warmer and so easier to breathe.  She had no fear of heights, the Demons had made certain when they changed her for when you were standing on the hull of a starship in a micro-suit and ‘down’ was ten thousand light years, and the only thing between you and infinity was the grip your foot or tail had on a convenient projection of the hull, fear of heights was as useless as fear of the dark or fear of falling or fear of open spaces or fear of spiders (S’kree looked like giant intelligent bugs and the man who stomped a ‘spider’ in the Skree Worlds was asking to be used as egg food by the parent of the child he had just killed. When Humanity spread to the stars, they'd unintentionally start a lot of wars doing exactly that.  Or rather one war, for Earth would not survive the first reaction to their aggressive stupidity.).

She laughed at that thought.  The Red Men of Barsoom thought she was a tree-dwelling moorouk as the few Humans on Earth who knew about her thought she was a tree-dwelling monkey. The truth is that every change the Demons made to her was to enable her to work in space aboard a starship millions of years in advance of anything humanity could imagine.  Far from a tree-dwelling savage, she was now a homeless star-travelling engineer. She, who was once a Princess of Medieval Ulster, descended from the great High King, Brian Boru, born and raised to be married to a stranger to secure alliance, wasn't certain if her current position was a promotion or a demotion.  At least she was now free of the obligation to marry whomever her family chose, free from being chattel to be sold for alliance and land.

Eibhlin walked along the edge, her thoat following at the telepathic command.  All Martians were telepathic and she could easily, if she wished, communicate with them though the Martian could not communicate with the Earthling.  And if she wanted, she could close her mind and be invisible to their thoughts.  It was like standing in a darkened room and not knowing that someone was behind you. She sometimes did that to unnerve the Red Men and that was another talent that made her valuable to Ptarth.


After a while she approached a man sitting on a rock with a very long-barreled rifle.  The Red Man never even looked up but said “Kaor’ as she approached.  She was telepathically invisible to him and her thoat made no sound with its padded toes so she wondered how he knew she was there.

Replying in kind, she asked, “I would imagine that you would look to see who I was.  A stranger from behind is often a threat here.”

He laughed, “You come from Amhor so must be friendly.  Had you arrived from the seabed, I would have sighted you long since.”

She noted that the rifle he carried had a radio-sight and barrel that could easily kill a mouse at a dozen miles.  “Still, to find someone so trusting…”

He replied to her query, “I note that your thoughts are those of a woman, so I was in little danger, yet, they are strange, almost unreadable.” He turned to look, then looked again and as she started to speak, he raised his hand, “Please, no!  I love a good mystery, I savor the texture of the unknown as a merchant the touch of fine silk.  Say nothing about yourself and allow me the pleasure of discovering you by myself.”

He looked her over again, examining every aspect of her then commented, “I would almost think you are descended from the mourook of the Toonilian Marshes save that weapon at your belly shows an advanced construction far beyond even the technical atheists of Toonol.  This and your strange thought patterns and your physical being tells me that you are from another world just as is our Prince, Vad Varo.   And as our telescopes have studied every planet in this system, I must conclude that you are from another star.  Yet, you have many of the characteristics of our Prince which leads me to wonder if you are a hidden race from Jasoom?  Oh I so love a mystery.”

She sat nearby, then handed him a flask of wine that he accepted with a thanks.  “Do you have many mysteries to solve?” she asked.

“Not many, but those I do I cherish.  Like that man down there!”  he handed her his rifle and pointed, his mind sending an image of where to look.

She sighted in on the man, the rifle's sights locked on the man riding a thoat across the seabed as the secondary targeting circle moved off and on target as the barrel wavered in her grasp.  When the two circles matched, she could kill him though he be ten miles away.

Taking the weapon back, he continued, “He has been riding in this direction since I first saw him early yesterday morning.  And then only because the sun flashed off his harness. That implies that he is no Panthan for those carry no devices upon their leather.  He moves in this direction, but not in a line nor on the road.  He appears to be searching for something for he will alter his course and move in a pattern then continue in this direction so although Amhor may be his ultimate destination, it is not his immediate.  And he is alone.”

“Will you sit here until he arrives?” she asked.  Even her Martian binoculars weren't as powerful as his rifle scope though she tried to see the stranger.

“I think not.” He mused.  “Perhaps I shall go to meet with him.  Would you care to accompany me?  That way I can work on one mystery as I seek the solution to the other.”

“I have a few days to myself, I think that I shall, though I cannot abide mysteries myself.  I find that my mind is more set to the mechanics of the engine than the mind.”

“I am Vail Oran, a common than (warrior). And your name only please,”

She smiled at him and replied, “I am Eibhlin Inghean Ui Bhrian, though your people call me Eibhlin Ui Bhrian.”

“Eivleen Obreen,” he tasted the name as if he were sampling wine.  “A strange name but one that befits you.  Does it mean anything?”

“Eibhlin is my given name, my grandmother's name.  Ui Bhrian is my Clan name in Belfast.  Inghean is to differ me from my cousin.”   She noted how he listened carefully to her every word.  It had been long since anyone had done that.  He hesitated, then placed his right hand on her left shoulder as if he were meeting with another man.  “Excuse me if I offend, but from your carriage, I note that you are a noble, yet your metal shows you to be in the service of Ptarth.  And Ptarth has no alien nobles.  Are you, perhaps, a Noble cast from a conquered nation, seeking your way in the world?”

She replied in kind, then spoke as they walked to his nearby thoat.  “My mother was a Princess of Ulster who married my father, a lesser Prince of Innis for political alliance.  When our nation was conquered by England, my mother was sold to the Americas as a slave, my father hanged as a rebel.  I was raped and shot by their soldiers so now, I travel.”

“I knew it!” he was giddy with joy.  “A sad story but all too common upon Barsoom.  Still, I profit from the experience of knowing you.”

He led her down the road to the seabed, they chatting like old friends.  Men desired her body or her strength, few her friendship and so she liked this man, she decided.  Most Red Men were somber, sharing the eventual death of their world, Vail Oran enjoyed life and she was content to follow.  Eventually, he listened to her humm and asked, “Is that a song?”

“It is.  One my mother used to sing to me.  I haven't thought about it for years.”

“Please teach it to me.” He asked and so she did.

When, like the dawning day
Eileen Aroon
Love sends his early ray
Eileen Aroon
What makes his dawning glow
Changeless through joy and woe
Only the constant know
Eileen Aroon

Were she no longer true
Eileen Aroon
What would her lover do
Eileen Aroon
Fly with a broken chain
Far o'er the bounding main
Never to love again
Eileen Aroon
Youth must in time decay
Eileen Aroon
Beauty must fade away
Eileen Aroon
Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
Eileen Aroon*

*an old Irish tune by Barry Taylor.
Translated by Gerald Griffin
“A sad song,” he mentioned.

“We Irish are a melancholy race.  We fought amongst ourselves so much we were easy pickings for the English.  A conquered race has little joy.”

“Have you no joyful airs?”

She laughed and sang as she sought to dance a jig on the path,

Every person in the nation
Or of great or humble station
Holds in highest estimation
Piping Tim of Galway
Loudly he can play or low
He can move you fast or slow
Touch your hearts or stir your toe
Piping Tim of Galway

When the wedding bells are ringing
His the breath to lead the singing
Then in jigs the folks go swinging
What a splendid piper
He will blow from eve to mourn
Counting sleep a thing of scorn
Old is he but not outworn
Know you such a piper?

When he walks the highways pealing
`Round his head the birds come wheeling
Tim has carols worth the stealing
Piping Tim of Galway
Thrush and Linnet, finch and lark
To each other twitter "Hark"
Soon they sing from light to dark
Pipings learnt in Galway*

*a drinking song by John Renfro Davis.
“Much better!” he laughed, tasting the verses.  “Have you any more of that wine?”

She laughed and they sang Irish drinking songs as they rode until the sun grew low.  At that time, he tried to climb a small hill and located his quarry, “There!  He has camped in that low spot.  See the fire glint from his harness.  He seeks not to hide.  But we shall!”
Finding a low depression, he cut a scale from a mantilla and caught the milk as Eibhlin made a small fire from dried thoat dung and moss.  Then they talked until the stars were bright.

Finally, he unrolled his blanket saying, “My Lady, I shall take the first watch for I perceive you would not wish to sleep the night away.”

She curtseyed as best she could, laughing back, “Thank you, kind sir.  And please wake me upon the designated time.”  She lay within her blanket as close to the fire as she could, placing heated rocks at her feet and hips and head and listened to the thoats huddle in the cracks.  She even had pleasant dreams of Ireland.

Her watch came and she wondered again at her companion who would actually turn over the watch to a woman.  Red Men protected their women, never exposing them to danger.  And to go to sleep while a woman holds the dangerous post of night watch, searching for banths and other things that haunt the night was.. strange.

Eibhlin wrapped her blanket around her and climbed the hill.  Red Men were poor climbers but a body made for climbing around inside the hull of a starship found this light slope easy.  Especially when she used her tail to hold the blanket and had what amounted to four hands. The ability to see into the infrared and ultraviolet easily allowed her to pinpoint the reddish glows in the distance.

Using her companion's rifle, she sighted on the other man.  Asleep.  His thoat half buried in a crevasse.  The fire almost burned down.

She glanced up to see Thuria, the larger of the Moons overhead. It looked far smaller than the Moon of Earth and she sighted Clurios only because it was moving.  Clurios was so small that it resembled a bright star and was noticeable only when it passed another heavenly body.  In this case, Thuria.  She watched for a time, noted the illusion that both moons were far larger than they really were, much like Luna seemed a giant when rising above the Earthly horizon,  but small overhead.  There!  Thuria slowed and reversed direction as Clurios sought her embrace.  Another illusion that resembled retrograde motion.  The eye focused on the rapidly moving Clurios as it approached Thuria and perspective made it seem like Thuria reversed.  She never understood it until Brount, her alien fencing teacher had shown her.  He placed a light in the center of a cargo bay and had her walk around the light at a set speed and distance.  Brount then walked at a slightly faster pace just within her.  She knew his pace remained the same but it seemed like he ran to her, then slowed to match her then sped away.  When Brount moved outside her circle and slowed down (the further you were from the sun, the slower the planets revolved) his pace, she seemed to speed up, then it seemed like Brount had walked backwards until he was behind her, when he started forward again.  The universe was filled with optical illusions.  You could stare at a star in the distance between trees waving in the breeze and it would seem like the trees were frozen but the star was bouncing all over the place.  Very much like that shadow moving forward.  The rocks seemed to move and she had to force her mind to realize that…

She sighted on the banth with the rifle, seeking the juggler in the neck.  The Martian Lion paused to gage the thoat or the sleeper and that gave Eibhlin the time to fire.  Instantly she moved to the shoulder and fired a series of radium bullets into the side of the monster.  It was too dark to see the effect for there wasn't enough light to detonate the projectiles but with luck, they would penetrate the thick hide and cause enough bleeding to kill.  She would have preferred to use her Beamer but the range was too great.

The banth jerked, then reared and screamed, too far for her to hear clearly.  Then it leapt and stopped, frozen in midair for a moment, then fell to the side.

Eibhlin examined the scene as best she could.  She had excellent night vision, thanks to her Demon masters but once the sun set, she lost color and all was in black-and-white.  Unfortunately, the marvelous sighting mechanism on the rifle did not amplify light so she remained hampered.  But she did see the red man wipe his blade and look around, then pull a lance from the banth.  She saw him quickly pack his kit and rouse the thoat and lead it away in the darkness.  Blood would attract other predators who wouldn't care if the blood they scented came from a dead banth or a living man.

“What ho?” Vail asked after a noisy climb that dislodged more rock than she imagined existed.

“I was watching your mystery and shot a banth about to consume him.”  She replied.

He took the rifle and stared for a long time.  “You killed a banth at this range with non-exploding rounds?”

“I did not.” She replied, “I startled it with the impact. HE,” she motioned outward, ‘killed it with lance and sword.”

“My admiration for him grows.  Few men can survive a banth in the daylight with exploding ammunition. To kill one in the dark with lance and blade is almost unheard of.  Where goes he?”

“Off to the east I believe.  He is walking his thoat, doubtless to prevent panic and loss of a mount to a leg broken on a dark rock or hidden hole.”

Vail moved closer to her wrapping his encloaked arm around her shivering body.  “Apologies, you seem cold.”  The atmosphere on Mars was too thin to hold heat or light so when the sun set, it suddenly became dark and cold as if someone had turned out the lights and turned on the refrigeration.  Eibhlin’s Earthly body, even enhanced by the aliens, suffered the cold even more than did the Red Men.

“Are the stars different at your home?” he asked.

“I recall watching them with my parents when I was young.  They look the same, only not as many as can be seen in your thin air.  We see maybe seven thousand.  Here, with your thin atmosphere, the skies seem covered.  But mostly, since I left Ireland, I live far away.  None of the stars are recognizable and I must learn new names and new patterns.”

“It must be beautiful out there.” He whispered.

“Very.” She replied. “Few things are more beautiful than a star nebulae or the accretion disc of a black hole or a binary star dancing around each other.”

“Then why come here?”

She laughed. “An accident.  My ship remains in orbit around Jasoom, though in the far past or distant future I know not.  I have built a signal device which remains in Ptarth to call and when my ship arrives, so I shall leave.”

“You sound anxious.”

“I miss being warm at night.  I miss wearing clothes and mostly I miss real food that does not poison my guts!”  She didn't tell him that she missed her Vanthi lover who had deserted her on Earth.  Red Men had no understanding of lesbians.

 She was aware of his body heat for Red Men were warm, very warm.  It was as if their body temperature rose as the outside temperature fell.  Probably another illusion, she thought.  Still, his body heat was welcome and she fell asleep.

Eibhlin awoke with the sun in her face.  There were rocks under her and she ached from their points, still, it was another day and to someone who had died more than twenty years ago and been revived, every day was God's gift!

She climbed down the hill, amazed that Vail had done so and quietly, then had breakfast of Somp, mantilla and a bite of salted meat that she had to spit as her saliva became filled with the PCl from the meat.  Then they moved on.  “Mayhaps your bullets went unnoticed and he thinks he killed the banth alone,” he offered.

“I suspect that a man that careful and skilled would not miss a number of round holes in the body.”

Silent, she with her thoughts, he with his mystery, they moved on towards the area they thought the stranger was.

“POW!”  than a moment later, another report.

Continued in Next Week in ERBzine 6267


Previous Appearances of 
Eibhlin (EV-leen) on Barsoom
A PANTHAN OF MARS by Rick Johnson
THE BATTLE AT U-GOR by Rick Johnson

The Guide To All of 
Rick Johnson's ERB Features:

ERBzine 1578: Barsoom Questions
ERBzine 1370: Mapping Barsoom I: Can It Be Done?
ERBzine 1562: Mapping Barsoom II: Compromises
ERBzine 1565: Mapping Barsoom III: The Past
ERBzine 1633: Valley Dor
ERBzine 1634: Swords On Mars
ERBzine 1712: Spy: Arrival On Mars
ERBzine 2165: Battle at U-Gor
ERBzine 2166: Lost On Barsoom
ERBzine 2169: North to Barsoom
ERBzine 2196: Jahar
ERBzine 2294: Vegetation on Mars
ERBzine 2303: Return to Barsoom I: Letters.
ERBzine 3682: Verdun to U-Gor
ERBzine 4140: Slave Girl of Mars
ERBzine 5829: A Few Thoughts About Jetan

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