JOHN CARTER AND THE GIANT OF MARS
The moons of Mars looked down upon a giant Martian thoat as it raced silently over the soft mossy ground. Eight powerful legs carried the creature forward in great, leaping strides.
The path of the mighty beast was guided telepathically by the two people who sat in a huge saddle that was cinched to the thoat’s broad back.
It was the custom of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, to ride forth weekly to inspect part of her grandfather’s vast farming and industrial kingdom.
Her journey to the farm lands wound through the lonely Helium Forest where grow the huge trees that furnish much of the lumber supply to the civilized nations of Mars.
Dawn was just breaking in the eastern Martian sky, and the jungle was dark and still damp with the evening dew. The gloom of the forest made Dejah Thoris thankful for the presence of her companion, who rode in the saddle in front of her. Her hands rested on his broad, bronze shoulders, and the feel of those smooth, supple muscles gave her a little thrill of confidence. One of his hands rested on the jewel-encrusted hilt of his great long sword and he sat his saddle very straight, for he was the mightiest warrior on Mars.
John Carter turned to gaze at the lovely face of his princess. “Frightened, Dejah Thoris?” he asked.
“Never, when I am with my chieftain,” Dejah Thoris smiled.
“But what of the forest monsters, the arboks?”
“Grandfather has had them all removed. On the last trip, my guard killed the only tree reptile I’ve ever seen.”
Suddenly Dejah Thoris gasped, clutched vainly at John Carter to regain her balance. The mighty thoat lurched heavily to the mossy ground. The riders catapulted over his head. In an instant the two had regained their feet; but the thoat lay very still.
Carter jerked his long sword from its scabbard and motioned Dejah Thoris to stay at his back.
The silence of the forest was abruptly shattered by an uncanny roar directly above them.
“An arbok!” Dejah Thoris cried.
The tree reptile launched itself straight for the hated man-things. Carter lifted his sword and swung quickly to one side, drawing the monster’s attention away from Dejah Thoris who crouched behind the fallen thoat.
The earthman’s first thrust sliced harmlessly through the beast’s outer skin. A huge claw knocked him off balance, and he found himself lying on the ground with the great fangs at his throat.
“Dejah Thoris, get the atom gun from the thoat’s back,” Carter called hoarsely to the girl. There was no answer.
Calling upon every ounce of his great strength, Carter drove his sword into the arbok’s neck. The creature shuddered. A stream of blood gushed from the wound. The man wriggled from under the dead body and sprang to his feet.
“Dejah Thoris! Dejah Thoris!”
Wildly Carter searched the ground and trees surrounding the dead thoat and arbok. There was no sign of Dejah Thoris. She had utterly vanished.
A shaft of light from the rising sun filtering through the foliage glistened on an object at the earthman’s feet. Carter picked up a large shell, a shell recently ejected from a silent atom gun.
Springing to the dead thoat, he examined the saddle trappings. The atom gun that he had told Dejah Thoris to fire was still in its leather boot!
The earthman stooped beside the dead thoat’s head. There was a tiny, bloody hole through its skull. That shot and the charging arbok had been part of a well conceived plan to abduct Dejah Thoris, and kill him!
But Dejah Thoris—how had she disappeared so quickly, so completely?
Grimly, Carter set off at a run back to the forest toward Helium.
Noon found the earthman in a private audience chamber of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, grandfather of Dejah Thoris.
The old jeddak was worried. He thrust a rough piece of parchment into John Carter’s hand. Crude, bold letters were inscribed upon the parchment; and as Carter scanned the note his eyes burned with anger. It read:
“I, Pew Mogel, the most powerful ruler on Mars, have decided to take over the iron works of Helium. The iron will furnish me with all the ships I need to protect Helium and the other cities of Barsoom from invasion. If you have not evacuated all your workers from the iron mines and factories in three days, then I will start sending you the fingers of the Royal Princess of Helium. Hurry, because I may decide to send her tongue, which wags too much of John Carter. Remember, obey Pew Mogel, for he is all-powerful.”
Tardos Mors dug his nails into the palms of his hands. “Who is the upstart who calls himself the most powerful ruler of Mars?”
Carter looked thoughtfully at the note.
“He must have spies here,” he said. “Pew Mogel knew that I was to leave this morning with Dejah Thoris on a tour of inspection.”
“A spy it must have been,” Tardos Mors groaned. “I found this note pinned to the curtains in my private audience-chamber. But what can we do? Dejah Thoris is the only thing in life that I have left to love—” His voice broke.
“All Helium loves her, Tardos Mors, and we will all die before we return to you empty-handed.”
Carter strode to the visiscreen and pushed a button. “Summon Kantos Kan and Tars Tarkas.” He spoke quickly to an orderly. “Have them come here at once.”
Soon after, the huge, green warrior and the lean, red man were in the audience-chamber.
“It is fortunate, John Carter, that I am here in Helium on my weekly visit from the plains.” Tars Tarkas, the green thark, gripped his massive sword with his powerful four hands. His great, giant body loomed majestically above the others in the room.
Kantos Kan laid his hand on John Carter’s shoulder. “I was on my way to the palace when I received your summons. Already, word of our princess’ abduction has spread over Helium. I came immediately,” said the noble fellow, “to offer you my sword and my heart.”
“I have never heard of this Pew Mogel,” said Tars Tarkas. “Is he a green man?”
Tardos Mors grunted, “He’s probably some petty outlaw or criminal who has an overbloated ego.”
Carter raised his eyes from the ransom note.
“No, Tardos Mors, I think he is more formidable than you imagine. He is clever, also. There must have been an airship, with a silent motor, at hand to carry Dejah Thoris away so quickly—or perhaps some great bird! Only a very powerful man who is prepared to back up his threats would kidnap the Princess of Helium and even hope to take over the great iron works.
“He probably has great resources at his command. It is doubtful, however, if he has any intention of returning the princess or he would have included more details in his ransom note.”
Suddenly the earthman’s keen eyes narrowed. A shadow had moved in the adjoining room.
With a powerful leap, Carter reached the arched doorway. A furtive figure melted away into the semi-gloom of the passageway, with Carter close behind.
Seeing escape impossible, the stranger halted, sank to one knee and leveled a ray-gun at the approaching figure of the earthman. Carter saw his finger whiten as he squeezed the trigger.
“Carter!” Kantos Kan shouted, “throw yourself to the floor.”
With the speed of light, Carter dropped prone. A long blade whizzed over his head and buried itself to the hilt in the heart of the stranger.
“One of Pew Mogel’s spies,” John Carter muttered as he rose to his feet. “Thank you, Kantos Kan.”
Kantos Kan searched the body but found no clue to the man’s identity. Back in the audience-chamber, the men set to work with fierce resolve. They were bending over a huge map of Barsoom when Carter spoke.
“Cities for miles around Helium are now all friendly. They would have warned us of this Pew Mogel if they had known of him. He has probably taken over one of the deserted cities in the dead sea bottom east or west of Helium. It means thousands of miles to search; but we will go over each mile.”
Carter seated himself at a table and explained his plan. “Tars Tarkas, go east and contact the chiefs of all your tribes. I’ll cover the west with air scouts, Kantos Kan will stay in Helium as contact man. Be ready night and day with the entire Helium air force. Whoever discovers Dejah Thoris first will notify Kantos Kan of his position. Naturally, we can only communicate to each other through Kantos Kan.”
“The wave length will be constant and secret, 2000 kilocycles.” Tardos Mors turned to the earthman.
“Every resource in my kingdom is at your command, John Carter.”
“We leave at once, your majesty; and if Dejah Thoris is alive on Barsoom, we shall find her,” replied John Carter.
Within three hours, John Carter was standing on the roof of the Royal Airdrome giving last-minute instructions to a fleet of twenty-four fast, one-man scouts.
“Cover all the territory in your district thoroughly. If you discover anything, don’t attempt to handle it by yourself. Notify Kantos Kan immediately.” Carter surveyed the grim faces before him and knew that they would obey him.
“Let’s go.” Carter jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the ships.
The men scattered and soon their planes were speeding away from Helium.
Carter stayed on the roof long enough to check with Kantos Kan. He adjusted the earphones around his head and then signalled on 2000 kilocycles. The dots and dashes of Kantos Kan’s reply began coming in immediately.
“Your signal comes in perfectly. Tars Tarkas is just leaving the city. The air fleet is mobilizing. The entire air force will stand by to come to your aid. Kantos Kan signing off.”
Night found Carter cruising about five hundred miles from Helium. He was very tired. The search of several ruined cities and canals had been fruitless. The buzzing of the microset aroused him again.
“Kantos Kan reporting. Tars Tarkas has organized a complete ground search east to south; other air scouts west to south report nothing. Will acquaint you with any news that might come in. Awaiting orders. Will stand by. Signing off.”
“No orders. No news. Carter signing off.”
Wearily he let the ship drift. No need to look further until the moons came up. The earthman fell into a fitful sleep.
It was midnight when the speaker sounded, jerking Carter to wakefulness. Kantos Kan was signalling again, excitedly.
“Tars Tarkas has found Dejah Thoris. She is held in a deserted city on the banks of the dead sea at Korvas.” Kantos Kan gave the exact latitude and longitude of the spot.
“Further instructions from Tars Tarkas request the greatest secrecy in your movements. He will be at the main bridge leading into the City. Kantos Kan signing, off. Come in, John Carter.”
John Carter signed off with Kantos Kan, urging him to stand by constantly to be ready with the Helium Air Fleet. Now he set his gyro-compass, a device that would automatically steer him to his destination.
Several hours later, the earthman flew over a low range of hills and saw below him an ancient city on the banks of the Dead Sea. He circled his plane and dropped to the bridge where he had been instructed to meet Tars Tarkas. Long, black shadows filled a dry gully below him.
Carter climbed out of his plane, keeping to the shadows, and made his way to the towering ruins of the city. It was so quiet that a lonely bat swooping from a tower sounded like a falling airship.
Where was Tars Tarkas? The green man should have appeared at the bridge.
At the entrance to the city, Carter stepped into the black shadow of a wall and waited. No sound broke the stillness of the quiet night. The city was like a tomb. Demos and Phobos, the two fast-moving moons of Mars, whirled across the heavens.
Carter stopped breathing to listen. To his keen ears came the faint sound of steps—strange, shuffling steps dragging closer.
Something was coming along the wall. The earthman tensed, ready to spring away to his ship. Now he could hear other steps all around him. Inside the ruins something dragged against the fallen rocks.
Then a great, heavy body dropped on John Carter from the wall above. Hot, fetid breath burned his neck. Huge, shaggy arms smothered him in their fierce embrace.
The thing hurled him to the rough cobblestones. Huge hands clutched at his throat. Carter turned his head and saw above him the face of a great, white ape.
Three of the creature’s fellows were circling around Carter, striving to tie his feet with a piece of rope while the other choked him into insensibility with his four mighty hands.