“But the parachutes!” exclaimed Kantos Kan. “How did you manage to get those on their backs or keep them from tearing them off when the creatures finally became conscious?”
“They did not regain consciousness until the last minute,” replied the earthman. “We kept the inside cabin of each troop ship filled with enough smoke to keep the rats unconscious all the way to Helium. We had plenty of time to attach the parachutes to their backs. The rats came to in midair after my men shoved them out of the ships.”
John Carter nodded toward the disappearing creatures in the mountains. “They were very much alive and fighting mad when they hit the ground, as you saw,” added the earthman. “They simply stepped out of their parachute harnesses when they landed, and leaped for anyone in sight.
“As for the malagors,” he concluded, “they are birds—and birds on both earth and Mars have no love for snakes or rats. I knew those malagors would prefer other surroundings when they saw and smelled their natural enemies in the air around them!”
Dejah Thoris looked up at her chieftain and smiled. “Was there ever such a man before?” she asked. “Could it be that all earthman are like you?”
That night all Helium celebrated its victory. The streets of the city surged with laughing people. The mighty, green warriors of Thark mingled —in common brotherhood with the fighting legions of Helium.
In the royal palace was staged a great feast in honor of John Carter’s service to Helium.
Old Tardos Mors, the jeddak, was so choked with feeling at the miraculous delivery of his city from the hands of their enemy and the safe return of his granddaughter that he was unable to speak for some time when he arose at the dining table to offer the kingdom’s thanks to the earthman.
But when he finally spoke, his words were couched with the simple dignity of a great ruler. The intense gratitude of these people deeply touched the earthman’s heart.
Later that night, John Carter and Dejah Thoris stood alone on a balcony overlooking the royal gardens.
The moons of Mars circled majestically across the heavens, causing the shadows of the distant mountains to roll and tumble in an ever-changing fantasy over the plain and the forest.
Even the shadows of the two people on the royal balcony slowly merged into one.
SKELETON MEN OF JUPITER
Particularly disliking forewords, I seldom read them; yet it seems that I scarcely ever write a story that I do not inflict a foreword on my long-suffering readers. Occasionally I also have to inject a little weather and scenery in my deathless classics, two further examples of literary racketeering that I especially deplore in the writings of others. Yet there is something to be said in extenuation of weather and scenery, which, together with adjectives, do much to lighten the burdens of authors and run up their word count.
Still, there is little excuse for forewords; and if this were my story there would be none. However, it is not my story. It is John Carter’s story. I am merely his amanuensis. On guard! John Carter takes his sword in hand.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
I am no scientist. I am a fighting man. My most beloved weapon is the sword, and during a long life I have seen no reason to alter my theories as to its proper application to the many problems with which I have been faced. This is not true of the scientists. They are constantly abandoning one theory for another one. The law of gravitation is about the only theory that has held throughout my lifetime—and if the earth should suddenly start rotating seventeen times faster than it now does, even the law of gravitation would fail us and we would all go sailing off into space.
Theories come and theories go—scientific theories. I recall that there was once a theory that Time and Space moved forward constantly in a straight line. There was also a theory that neither Time nor Space existed —it was all in your mind’s eye. Then came the theory that Time and Space curved in upon themselves. Tomorrow, some scientist may show us reams and reams of paper and hundreds of square feet of blackboard covered with equations, formulae, signs, symbols, and diagrams to prove that Time and Space curve out away from themselves. Then our theoretic universe will come tumbling about our ears, and we shall have to start all over again from scratch.
Like many fighting men, I am inclined to be credulous concerning matters outside my vocation; or at least I used to be. I believed whatever the scientists said. Long ago, I believed with Flammarion that Mars was habitable and inhabited; then a newer and more reputable school of scientists convinced me that it was neither. Without losing hope, I was yet forced to believe them until I came to Mars to live. They still insist that Mars is neither habitable or inhabited, but I live here. Fact and theory seem to be opposed. Unquestionably, the scientists appear to be correct in theory. Equally incontrovertible is it that I am correct in fact.
In the adventure that I am about to narrate, fact and theory will again cross swords. I hate to do this to my long-suffering scientific friends; but if they would only consult me first rather than dogmatically postulating theories which do not meet with popular acclaim, they would save themselves much embarrassment.
Dejah Thoris, my incomparable princess, and I were sitting upon a carved ersite bench in one of the gardens of our palace in Lesser Helium when an officer in the leather of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, approached and saluted.
“From Tardos Mors to John Carter, Kaor!” he said. “The jeddak requests your immediate presence in the Hall of Jeddaks in the imperial palace in Greater Helium.”
“At once,” I replied.
“May I fly you over, sir?” he asked. “I came in a two-seater.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “I’ll join you at the hangar in a moment.” He saluted and left us.
“Who was he?” asked Dejah Thoris. “I don’t recall ever having seen him before.”
“Probably one of the new officers from Zor, whom Tardos Mors has commissioned in the Jeddak’s Guard. It was a gesture of his, made to assure Zor that he has the utmost confidence in the loyalty of that city and as a measure for healing old wounds.”
Zor, which lies about three hundred eighty miles southeast of Helium, is one of the most recent conquests of Helium and had given us a great deal of trouble in the past because of treasonable acts instigated by a branch of its royal family led by one Multis Par, a prince. About five years before the events I am about to narrate occurred, this Multis Par had disappeared; and since then Zor had given us no trouble. No one knew what had become of the man, and it was supposed that he had either taken the last, long voyage down the river Iss to the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor or had been captured and murdered by members of some horde of savage Green men. Nor did anyone appear to care—just so he never returned to Zor, where he was thoroughly hated for his arrogance and cruelty.
“I hope that my revered grandfather does not keep you long,” said Dejah Thoris. “We are having a few guests for dinner tonight, and I do not wish you to be late.”
“A few!” I said. “How many? Two hundred or three hundred?”
“Don’t be impossible,” she said, laughing, “Really, only a few.”
“A thousand, if it pleases you, my dear,” I assured her as I kissed her. “And now, good-by! I’ll doubtless be back within the hour.” That was a year ago!
As I ran up the ramp toward the hangar on the palace roof, I had, for some then unaccountable reason, a sense of impending ill; but I attributed it to the fact that my tête-à-tête with my princess had been so quickly interrupted.
The thin air of dying Mars renders the transition from day to night startlingly sudden to an earthman. Twilight is of short duration owing to the negligible refraction of the sun’s rays. When I had left Dejah Thoris, the sun, though low, was still shining; the garden was in shadow, but it was still daylight. When I stepped from the head of the ramp to that part of the roof of the palace where the hangar was located which housed the private fliers of the family, dim twilight partially obscured my vision. It would soon be dark. I wondered why the hangar guard had not switched on the lights.
In the very instant that I realized that something was amiss, a score of men surrounded and overpowered me before I could draw and defend myself. A voice cautioned me to silence. It was the voice of the man who had summoned me into this trap, When the others spoke, it was in a language I had never heard before. They spoke in dismal, hollow monotone, expressionless, sepulchral.
They had thrown me face down upon the pavement and trussed my wrists behind my back. Then they jerked me roughly to my feet. Now, for the first time, I obtained a fairly good sight of my captors. I was appalled. I could not believe my own eyes. These things were not men. They were human skeletons! Black eye sockets looked out from grinning skulls. Bony, skeletal fingers grasped my arms. It seemed to me that I could see every bone in each body. Yet the things were alive! They moved. They spoke. They dragged me toward a strange craft that I had not before noticed. It lay in the shadow of the hangar, long, lean, sinister. It looked like an enormous projectile, with rounded nose and tapering tail In the first brief glance I had of it, I saw fins forward below its median line, a long, longitudinal aileron (or so I judged it to be) running almost the full length of the ship, and strangely designed elevator and rudder as part of the empennage assembly. I saw no propellers; but then I had little time for close examination of the strange craft, as I was quickly hustled through a doorway in its metal side. The interior was pitch dark. I could see nothing other than the faint light of the dying day visible through long, narrow portholes in the ship’s side.
The man who had betrayed me followed me into the ship with my captors. The door was closed and securely fastened; then the ship rose silently into the night. No light showed upon it, within or without. However, I was certain that one of our patrol ships must see it; then, if nothing more, my people would have a clue upon which to account for my disappearance; and before dawn a thousand ships of the navy of Helium would be scouring the surface of Barsoom and the air above it in search of me, nor could any ship the size of this find hiding place wherein to elude them.
Once above the city, the lights of which I could see below us, the craft shot away at appalling speed. Nothing upon Barsoom could have hoped to overhaul it. It moved at great speed and in utter silence. The cabin lights were switched on. I was disarmed and my hands were freed. I looked with revulsion, almost with horror, upon the twenty or thirty creatures which surrounded me.
I saw now that they were not skeletons, though they still closely resembled the naked bones of dead men. Parchment-like skin was stretched tightly over the bony structure of the skull. There seemed to be neither cartilage nor fat underlying it. What I had thought were hollow eye sockets were deep set brown eyes showing no whites. The skin of the face merged with what should have been gums at the roots of the teeth, which were fully exposed in both jaws, precisely as are the teeth of a naked skull. The nose was but a gaping hole in the center of the face. There were no external ears, only the orifices, nor was there any hair upon any of the exposed parts of their bodies nor upon their heads. The things were even more hideous than the hideous kaldanes of Bantoom those horrifying spider men into whose toils fell Tara of Helium during that adventure which led her to the country of The Chessmen of Mars; they, at least, had beautiful bodies, even though they were not their own.
The bodies of my captors harmonized perfectly with their heads— parchment-like skin covered the bones of their limbs so tightly that it was difficult to convince one’s self that it was not true bone that was exposed. And so tightly was this skin drawn over their torsos that every rib and every vertebra stood out in plain and disgusting relief. When they stood directly in front of a bright light, I could see their internal organs.
They wore no clothing other than a G-string. Their harness was quite similar to that which we Barsoomians wear, which is not at all remarkable, since it was designed to serve the same purpose, supporting a sword, a dagger, and a pocket pouch.
Disgusted, I turned away from them to look down upon the moon bathed surface of my beloved Mars. But where was it! Close to port was Cluros, the farther moon! I caught a glimpse of its surface as we flashed by. Fourteen thousand five hundred miles in a little more than a minute! It was incredible.
The red man who had engineered my capture came and sat down beside me. His rather handsome face was sad. “I am sorry, John Carter,” he said. “Perhaps, if you will permit me to explain, you will at least understand why I did it. I do not expect that you will ever forgive me.”
“Where is this ship taking me?” I demanded.
“To Sasoom,” he said.
Sasoom! That is the Barsoomian name for Jupiter three hundred and forty-two million miles from the palace where my Dejah Thoris awaited me!
For some time I sat in silence, gazing out in the inky black void of space, a Stygian backdrop against which stars and planets shone with intense brilliancy, steady and untwinkling. To port or starboard, above, below, the heavens stared at me with unblinking eyes—millions of white hot, penetrating eyes. Many questions harassed my mind. Had I been especially signalled out for capture? If so, why? How had this large ship been able to enter Helium and settle upon my landing stage in broad daylight? Who was this sad-faced, apologetic man who had led me into such a trap? He could have nothing against me personally. Never, before he had stepped into my garden, had I seen him.
It was he who broke the silence. It was as though he had read my thoughts. “You wonder why you are here, John Carter,” he said. “If you will bear with me, I shall tell you. In the first place, let me introduce myself. I am U Dan, formerly a padwar in the guard of Zu Tith, the Jed of Zor who was killed in battle when Helium overthrew his tyrannical reign and annexed the city.”
“My sympathies were all upon the side of Helium, and I saw a brilliant and happy future for my beloved city once she was a part of the great Heliumetic empire. I fought against Helium; because it was my sworn duty to defend the jed I loathed—a monster of tyranny and cruelty—but when the war was over, I gladly swore allegiance to Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium.