Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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David Allen Smith has provided a charming Barsoom adventure for his first submission to the Pastiche and Fan Fiction section. What you are about to read is actually the third draft, much polished and expanded after Tangor's commentary and editorial suggestions regarding Barsoom. I know I'm looking forward to hearing more from David Allen Smith!
MISSION TO TORQUAS
David Allen Smith
Oopyright © 2018
A royal five-man flier carried my son, Carthoris and I swiftly through the thin Barsoomian atmosphere. Left behind were the comforting sights and sounds of Greater Helium as father and son embarked on a mission at the behest of Tardos Mors. We journeyed west toward the Mountains Of Torquas. There in a cave was reputedly a great, hidden cache of gold. If so, the resources were needed to replenish the Jeddak's reserves, greatly depleted as a result of the Zodangan war on Helium. Our job was to locate and retrieve the treasure. At our brief interview with the Jeddak, he remarked, "I am dispatching both of you because you are the most trusted and able fighting men of Helium. May Issus be with you."
We encountered the mountain objective at 4,000 feet. Below, the foretold riches waited. As I manipulated the controls I could not help but consider the myriad risks of the task at hand. After all, we were but two men in Torquasian territory. Swift efficient actions and utmost caution were dictated in order to avoid detection and capture by cruel green men. The dangers were obvious, but I did not fear. Beside me sat brave Carthoris, resplendent with his gleaming sword depending from his belt, likewise his dagger and radium pistol. Well-armed Earthling father and Martian son we were—a more formidable duo I could scarcely imagine.
Presently, we spotted the cave, the noontime sun facilitating an easy detection. Not far from the opening lay a field of giant boulders, positioned so as to make landing treacherous. However, I spiraled us down carefully, and we disembarked from the craft with the wanton relish of treasure seekers.
A opening ten-feet wide beneath a hanging outcrop of rock comprised the entrance. Not long did we linger, but advanced directly into the interior, which was as dark as a tomb, the only light being that of our radium lamps. Almost immediately the tunnel described an upward twisting and turning path. I had never been fond of caves, and this one radiated a palpable sense of foreboding. Its granite walls were black-stained by ever-dripping saline water, resulting in the floor being covered here and there by stretches of cold grimy muck. A faint scent of hydrogen sulfide tainted the air. It was a miserable wicked place we traveled in silence for quite some time.
"How much farther must we go?" I asked with growing impatience.
"I cannot say, Father," he responded.
Suddenly a violent Marsquake struck. The cavern's floor shook mightily, after which we heard a tremendous roar of tumbling rock somewhere ahead. It was a cave in! The event was attended almost immediately by waves of choking dust, all the more discomforting in the stygian blackness. We struggled to maintain our orientation. To our further dismay, a secondary collapse occurred relatively close behind us. We hastened back as quickly as possible in order to assess our predicament, arriving at a solid wall of fallen rock. We were trapped! There was no way we could possibly dig through the tons of detritus that there existed. Staggering about in subterranean darkness, confronted with impending air depletion, we had a limited time to live unless we could swiftly conceive a viable plan of escape. For a fleeting instant I was concerned.
"What shall we do?" inquired Carthoris.
"We shall survive! Let us head toward the other cave in. Perhaps the circumstances there are more favorable," I suggested.
"I agree," acquiesced Carthoris.
"Then let us go!" I said, and commenced to lead the way forward. Strangely, before long a wan light was noted in the distance, which grew brighter as we progressed.
"It makes no sense that it should be getting lighter," Carthoris remarked.
Nonetheless, it was true. The massive jumble of stone we were nearing was illuminated from overhead by a source which could not yet be seen. Also, the cave was becoming much larger. We ultimately recognized that the glow emanated from sunlight shining through a narrow aperture in the arched ceiling. The opening, being about fifty feet above our heads was well within my leaping range, but too small to allow my exit.
We tread onward cautiously as intermittent, gravel-like debris fell upon us. Suddenly, the fearsome sound of further rending rock was heard again, followed by an avalanche of dirt and rock which fell upon us, partially covering Carthoris. I was knocked sprawling, but uninjured to the floor, my indispensable lamp flying from my hand. Upon regaining it, I trained its rays on my son. "Are you hurt?" I queried.
"I think not badly, but I am held fast," he said. Working with extreme resolve, I used my sword to begin the process of digging Carthoris out... "I am growing unaccountably weak, Father. Why is this so?" he asked.
"The most likely cause is carbon dioxide. Being heavier than air, it sometimes collects on the floors of caves. Keep your head up. I shall have you free soon!" After some spirited excavation, Carthoris was extricated. A cursory physical check showed he was no worse for wear. "We had best get out of here," I said as we moved moved on, now with greater haste.
The main tunnel we sought to follow was blocked, but to the left we espied a smaller secondary tunnel. Considering our plight, we had nothing to lose by following it. "Let us explore that passageway," I said, directing us onward, prepared for any challenge we might face. I smiled, contemplating the moment, and a heady sense of exhilaration welled up within me which I had not felt in a long while, fueled by the excitement of adventure and the possibility of death. I have always felt the most alive when closest to death! Many men shrink from mortal danger, but I willingly advance toward it, not out of heroic compunctions, but from the sheer joy of supreme challenge.
We proceeded along the new passageway to an area where it grew wider, and the air more pure. By now the rumblings of the cave had subsided. From a mental standpoint I was heartily driven to move on, but we were both fatigued from the ill effects of both exertion and mild atmospheric poisoning. Thus it seemed prudent to employ a short respite.
"Let us stand here, back to back," I said. For a few scant moments we paused. But it was not long before there came a renewed shaking in the cave floor, which grew rapidly in intensity until the very shape the walls became distorted. Then all hell broke loose as huge sections of the stone ceiling fell, almost crushing us, scattering suffocating dust everywhere so that again it was difficult to see or even breathe. On and on the mad crashing rumble went... Finally, it stopped.
By some miracle of Issus, life remained to us. We were forced to wait until the bulk of dust settled. Then to my delight I saw that ahead the actions of the quake had fortuitously opened a crevice from ceiling to floor. Pink sky could clearly be seen through an opening wide enough to admit a man. We had only to to walk out to regain safety and freedom.
However, on our way we were stopped in our tracks after nearly falling over something singularly shocking: the skeletal remains of three red men, likely suffocated long ago by carbon dioxide. But a few steps ahead of them lay the most stunning discovery of all: an alcove filled waist-high with tons of gold nuggets—a dizzying king's ransom for the taking! An appreciable film of dirt attended the tops of the nuggets, testifying to their ancient deposition. With great vigor, we transported as much gold as we could to the outside. There we stood on a red sandy incline about a half-mile behind the cave opening, drinking in the fresh outside air. We retraced our steps back to the flier with our heavy spoils. Repeated return trips to the treasure were made until we had loaded the flier to capacity although the overwhelming bulk of the valuable metal was of necessity left behind.
Our work completed, I remarked, "There are safer ways to spend one's time, but we have done well. I believe Tardos Mors will rejoice at the arrival of this gold," I said.
"I quite agree," replied Carthoris. Then, I assume considering the vicissitudes we had recently encountered, he remarked, "It has hardly been the expedition I had envisioned. But the worst of it was the darkness. I would rather face a great white ape," he said. At that we both laughed.
In the midst of our careless banter an ominous group of thoat-mounted, green men had appeared! I should have known better than to relax my guard. We were caught in the open, our weapons hanging inertly at our sides, our flier some distance away, full of gleaming gold. The green men's raised rifles were not signs of good intentions. The foremost and largest of them addressed us: "You are both enemies and thieves! Do you wish to be killed now or after being tortured?"
Obviously, there would be no negotiation, nor quarter given. The confrontation obviously meant a fight to the death, most likely ours. But always I have hope. We did not answer, but instead observed the moment in silence, hoping to seize upon some as yet unrealized advantage.
The apparent leader rode forward. "Look! One is a red man. But the other is not. What manner of creature is this?"
Then another said, "It must be the rumored John Carter of Jasoom. I have heard he boasts he is the greatest swordsman of three worlds! Let us see what he can do against ten, armed, green men!"
"No, I will vanquish the puny calot! Are you this John Carter?" the four-armed warrior demanded.
"I am he," I replied.
"I will make you a offer, which is more than you deserve. We shall duel, and if you win, you can both go free. If not, you will endure two hideous deaths. Is that agreeable to you?"
"You are very kind," I answered.
"Silence. Prepare to die!"
At that the twelve-foot tall green man dismounted and whipped monstrous, twin long swords from his thick belt! He towered over me, a maniacal gleam in his eye, his upper left and lower right hands articulating bright and keen-edged blades. I moved forward from the confining cave entrance and took my position. Shuffling toward me, he swung one blade in a wild arc. He was not much of a swordsman. I easily parried his sword and he retreated. Then for a time we exchanged heavy blows. How I love the clanging sound of metal on metal! Ultimately, I struck one sword out of his hand, causing more than mild consternation. Now he advanced upon me with magnified fervor. He swung a mighty downward stroke with his remaining sword that would have cut me in half had it landed. But I deftly stepped inside as his steel sparked behind me on a rock in the ground. Springing out, and then as quickly back, I lunged at my slow antagonist's exposed belly, my sword point humiliating him with a minor premeditated prick. I could have run him through had I so desired and he knew it. With considerable embarrassment he bellowed and stamped his feet in anger as a tiny amount of green blood flowed!
"You devil! I will crush your ugly Jasoomian head!"
I was not impressed by his threats and recognized the time had arrived to terminate the engagement. Leaping up, I caught him with a crushing right cross to the head, followed by a left hook and another and another... I hammered several powerful blows to his thorax, and then fairly lifted the brute off his feet with a savage upper cut to his jaw, after which he fell in a crumpled heap at my feet. At this point Carthoris maintains that I grinned widely with delight. "Good fun," I said. Carthoris cheered!
The green men were astonished at my martial arts display. In fact, they lowered their rifles and blinked, and then they grinned, too. Being the Virginia gentleman I am, I repaired to my fallen adversary and assisted him to a standing position.
"You defeated me! How can this be?" he questioned.
"Defeat is always a possibility. What is more important is that I still live—as do you. Consequently, I ask, must we be enemies?"
The green man indulged in a long pause...
"No, John Carter, perhaps we do not. Perhaps the time has come for old fears and prejudices to be cast aside. Let us be friends for I cannot but admire your virtue and prowess. I am Dat Robar, at your service."
At that we clasped forearms and the entire group cheered. They thronged about us then, curious to compare weapons and communicate, all evidencing a welcome sense of respect. The leader even honored me with one of his huge swords as a gift.
Cathoris then asked: "But what of the gold we extracted from the cave?"
Dat Robar laughed. "We were unaware of its existence. Does much remain?"
"Much does, I can assure you. Simply follow our footprints."
"That we will do. You may keep what you have acquired, but we shall appropriate the remainder."
"That seems more than fair," I replied.
"No matter. You have taught me a valuable lesson in humility, John Carter."
"Thank you, sir," I answered. "May we take our leave presently?"
"Yes, and you are both welcome to return. Our city is but a short distance to the west."
"I will — and when I do I may bring a tall green friend with me for you to meet."
Dat Robar looked at me quizzically for a moment, then raised an upper hand to bid us farewell. At that point, the assemblage of warriors turned about on their enormous mounts and rode away.
"I am very glad you won that fight, Father," Carthoris said.
"Much good was gained from that battle," I answered.
We strode briskly to the flier, started her motors and were soon flying high, leaving the green men, the Mountains of Torquas and half a fortune far behind. But we also carried a fortune, and home lay to the east. The white Martian sun began to set as the flier's motors hummed. I smiled.
"What say you about our mission, Father?" Carthoris asked.
"I say that our mission has been accomplished and more. Let us head back to Helium with our precious booty. Tardos Mors will be greatly pleased and I, for one, look forward to a celebration feast!"