Others had circumnavigated Barsoom. Why was it so difficult for Marga Dan?
Copyright © 1997, 2004
Originally appeared at The Barsoomian Blade website. Revised by the author and printed here.
The room was dim, lit by only the light streaming in from two windows. It was a large room approximately 40 feet wide and 80 feet long. Once many years ago this room served as a warehouse for goods that were shipped over the vast oceans to far away capitals. In its heyday this room was often filled with boxes and crates stacked all the way up to its ceiling, forty feet high. Those hey days were long gone. This room had not been used for thousands of years, not since the great oceans dried up and the inhabitants of this once great city died out.
To this day many of the crates that were to be shipped still remained in the deserted room exactly where they were placed those many years ago—serving as relics of an extinct people, waiting to be discovered and studied by some interested archeologist or historian. Today however there stood a man behind one of these massive crates who cared not one bit about the contents of these huge boxes. He was more concerned of the way his footstep stood out in the inch thick layer of dust. It was particularly annoying to the man, the way the light from the windows seemed to be aiming their beams of light right at them. A spotlight could not do a better job of highlighting the footprints. The man, named Magra Dan, had taken such care to walk as far away from the light as he could, to avoid this specific problem. However, that was three hours ago when our man snuck into this room to hide from those pursuing him. The sun had since shifted, resulting in the current situation.
Magra Dan considered going over and wiping the footprints away. However, that thought was wiped away once a slight sound was heard just at the entry way. Involuntarily he sucked in his breath as he saw a large shadow at the door. Of course, to Magra Dan, the sucking noise he made seemed loud enough to wake the dead. However, apparently neither the dead nor the mysterious shuffler heard it, for neither entered the room to investigate. Whatever it was that made the noise moved on into the dark hallways of the abandoned building. Relieved, he slid down to the floor to rest his nerves, after a minute he began to recite to himself the exact reason why he is never going to attempt to break the record for circumnavigating Barsoom again. His arguments are simple: "It is far too expensive to design and build a new engine, This requires materials. To get the materials, one must have money to buy them with, the kind of money that a poor Padwar in the Navy of Helium does not have." Second, "It is too damned dangerous!"
Even Ptor Phak, who currently had the record had to try twice. His first attempt ended with him becoming prisoner of some invisible people! This would be Magra Dan's third attempt at the record and each time his ship is either shot down by green savages or his engine blown up to leave him stranded in some desolate and dangerous god forsaken part of Barsoom. So why did he try?
He'd be wealthy for starters.
With a speed record under his belt, Marga Dan could sell his engine design to the navy or an airship manufacturer for a substantial amount of money. Add to that, he would be a hero at home. Ptor Phak is from Zodanga, Helium's traditional rival. For years the people of Helium, who have basically grown and survived due to its naval superiority, have had to live with this humiliation. If Magra Dan could bring the record back to Helium, he would be worshipped. All of this was enough to keep Magra Dan trying, even after his last failed attempt.
During his last attempt at breaking the record, his engine blew when it over-heated. Clearly a design flaw. So Magra Dan designed a new cooling system which would prevent that from happening. And it worked… sort-of. His engine didn't blow up, it just overheated enough to fuse the steel together. Normally this would merely be an annoyance and setback to his plans. Unfortunately, his ship stranded him within sight of a small Warhoon raiding party who quickly noticed his distressed airship and began to follow.
Fortunately for Marga Dan, he was close to this deserted city. Once he realized the gravity of his situation he performed a quick profit and loss assessment. The results being if he stayed to defend this PROFIT-less engine, he will suffer a LOSS of life.
The choice was simple. He decided it would not be too humiliating to withdraw in a dignified manner to the nearby city. Red men generally prefer not to run, however under the current situation Magra Dan made an exception. Who wouldn't with a party of twelve foot tall, four armed green savages riding mounts that are ten feet high at the shoulder. Magra Dan wasted no time, he ran so fast that he practically left his skin back by the airship. Unaccustomed to running, he forgot to tie down his various weapons and possessions that he had attached to his leather harness. The result being that during his first dozen yards he was accompanied by a rattling of metal like he never heard. He also witnessed his short sword fly out of its sheath and land point down into the moss. So much for the smooth dignified withdrawal!
Once in the city he ran down the main avenue some three hundred yards and entered this abandoned warehouse. Running down the main hallway he passed several rooms and settled on this one, where he had been behind this crate since. Knowing how stubborn these green men can be, he knew they would search for many days before they give up. The plan was to stay until nightfall, and then make his way out quietly.
Those plans soon evaporated, for no sooner had Magra Dan began to settle behind the crate when he noticed a shadow filling the doorway. The shadow's owner hesitated at the door and then stepped into the room. It stepped towards the first of Magra Dan's footprints and stopped. The diffused light coming from the window was enough to show Magra Dan the green of the trespasser's skin. Not that he needed this evidence, for the dim lighting was enough to discern enough of the creature to determine what it was. At twelve feet in height, with four arms, and the two large tusks protruding from the creature's face there was little else that this could be but one of the fierce Warhoons that were searching for him.
The Warhoon warrior was followed into the room by another, they seemed to slide in like nightmarish ghosts. They stood there, for what seemed an eternity, staring at Magra Dan's footprints. As the two giants stood there gazing at Magra Dan's footprints, the red man silently drew his long sword. He knew he was caught, he was also determined to give these two a hard time "catching" him. Although Magra Dan did not fancy himself to be a great warrior or another John Carter, he was still a formidable opponent.
As all other men on this planet, Marga Dan had grown up with a sword at his side and was trained to use it. Being a veteran of several wars and battles as a scout in Helium's Navy, he was no stranger to battle or death. As such Magra Dan stood behind the crate ready to fight, resigning his fate to that which awaited most fighting men of Barsoom.
Magra Dan peered around the corner of the crate, looking to see what would be his best approach to attack from. What Magra Dan saw however was his salvation. As the Warhoon warriors stood scanning the room for him, a huge dark shadow crept up to the Warhoon men from behind. When it was within striking distance of green men, the creature suddenly stood up, straightening out to a full fourteen feet in height, letting out the most mind numbing roar imaginable. Then it sprang at the unsuspecting Warhoons. It was a White Ape, the most feared of Barsoomian predators.
Magra Dan stood there stunned as the monster leaped at the two green men. With his four massive arms spread out, it grabbing both green men simultaneously. The first man died instantly, as the monster grabbed him by the neck and with a brutal shake snapped it. The second however, was not so easy. The monster was only able to grab his left upper arm, allowing the warrior to twist around and strike him with the long sword he held in one of his right arms. His blow gave a terrific cut to the creature at the shoulder, which for an instant made him release the warrior and back away a pace. But on Barsoom an instant moves pretty fast, and so did the enraged white ape, recovering from the blow he leaped onto the warrior with an amazing speed, tearing away at him with his four mighty fists, pounding him into the ground, using all of his seven hundred pounds of pure muscle, until there was nothing but green and red pulp. The victorious monster stood there glowering with his angry eyes, staring at his lifeless prey. Suddenly he drove his jaws into the flesh and tore out a chunk of meat to begin his well earned feast.
Magra Dan watched in horrified awe at the great beast, clearly deserving every bit of its fierce reputation. Despite the carnage he had just witnessed, Magra Dan was actually more at ease now. The White Ape killed the only men that knew he was in the room. Once the White Ape was done with his meal he would probably leave, leaving Magra Dan no worse for wear.
As fate should have it though, Magra Dan would get no rest just yet. As he tried to settle down on one knee, the metal butt of his short sword tapped against the metallic crate. A sound that in normal circumstances would not even be noticed by the most sensitive of ears, but in a deserted empty warehouse, was an alarm announcing potential prey for a ravenous and opportunist white ape. A pallid Magra Dan peered from his hiding to note to his horror, that the monster was no longer by the dead green men. He was nowhere to be seen! A faint sound could be heard from the other side of the container, then another, suddenly there is a thud on top of the very crate that Magra Dan hid behind! Magra Dan, nerves already raw, nearly fell into a panic. He expected to feel a giant hand grab him from above, but there was nothing but silence. To him it would almost be better to have an outright confrontation with the beast than to sit here waiting for it to pounce on him.
Regaining his composure he quickly devised a plan. Taking his dagger from its harness he threw it to the farthest, dark corner he could see. After a second his gamble was rewarded when he saw a huge shape suddenly lunge off of the container towards the clattering dagger. Wasting no time Magra Dan made his way around the far side of the container. At the same time he drew his pistol, this situation required some good old fashioned fire power.
Looking from behind the crate, he spotted the White Ape, back turned to him, studying the dagger. Then looking at the doorway about twenty feet away, he figured he could quietly make his way to it while the ape analyzed the dagger. Moving slowly and carefully he made his way towards the doorway, carefully looking back to make sure that the creature had not seen him. Despite all his best efforts, his padded sandals made a slight, almost noiseless thud on the dusty floor.
When next Magra Dan looked over to the white ape, he saw angry red eyes beading in on him. As common myth or belief would have it, the white Ape would stand up on it two feet and roar pounding its chest with its four mighty fists at its intended prey, but in reality that would be wasteful and serve no purpose. Instead what Magra Dan saw was the great beast hurl itself after him, using its two lower arms to assist in propelling itself onto its intended prey. All the while its head, topped with bristling hair, stayed nearly motionless on its body, as its eyes focused on the eyes of its prey, a tactic that in most cases is more than enough to paralyze its prey with fear.
However Magra Dan was no ordinary prey, but rather an experienced warrior. Now that the fight was out in the open, all fear vanished from Magra Dan, all the nervous anxiety that so often precedes any important event is gone. Instead it is now replaced by the instincts of a warrior. Raising his radium pistol towards the beast which charged him from thirty feet away Magra Dan took aim. This pistol, which was easily the most potent weapon a Barsoomian warrior may have, fired a bullet that contains a powder that explodes when exposed to sunlight once the outer shell of the bullet cracks on impact. Aiming at the beast's upper body, Magra Dan fired. To his apprehension his ace-in-the-hole didn't work. Nothing happened! Apparently, the diffused sunlight was not enough to make the shells go off.
Running towards the doorway he fired again at the creature, hoping that something would happen. Nothing did. The beast simply winced at the impact of the bullets, and was getting a little irritated by them. The monster was now within twenty feet of Magra Dan and it was in a rage. Once at the door of the room, Magra Dan swung to the left, towards the doorway that he used to enter the building. He could see the daylight trickling in through the exit two hundred and fifty feet away. Racing down the hallway he heard the creature crash into the wall as it rounded the corner of the doorway too fast. However, it regrouped fast. By the time Magra Dan looked over his shoulder he could see it was already back on his trail and catching up fast.
In the wide hallway designed to allow large cargo containers, the monster moved with no hindrance. Magra Dan ran as he never ran before, but not fast enough. The creature was catching up with an alarming speed. With thirty feet yet to go, the monster was already only ten feet behind him. Magra Dan could feel the wind caused by the monster swiping at his head with its free upper arms. He could feel the hands getting closer. A moment later, he felt the apes finger rap him on the back of his head. Without much thought, relying purely on his instincts and training, he threw his useless pistol over his shoulder at the monster. Then grasping his long sword with both hands, he pushed off his right foot, up and swinging his body around he swung a vicious blow at the monster's outstretched hand, severing two of its fingers, then completing the rotation of his body, he landed on his left foot, and almost without loss of a stride continued forward.
Looking over his shoulder, he could see the effect of the old trick, used so often by retreating soldiers to discourage a close pursuit. With some satisfaction he saw the beast grabbing his injured paw and slowing for a few paces. Shocked by Magra Dan's maneuver, the beast lost its stride, then harnessing his rage he leaped after Magra Dan with a re-doubled effort. Reaching the doorway, Magra Dan could see nowhere he could go or hide within two hundred feet. The monster was now almost to the door. There was nothing to do but stand and fight, at least out in the open he stood a chance.
Running towards the center of the avenue, he drew his short sword, and stood waiting for the monster. Armed with his long sword in his right hand, Magra Dan was determined to make it a costly fight for the Great Ape. Looking at the doorway he could see the Ape coming at him, approaching the doorway at a quickening pace. Once it realized its prey was no longer running it slowed down and rose up on its two hind legs. After a great bellow of rage, it charged forward on its two hind legs. The red man saw the towering monster racing towards him ready to crush him, he saw the sunlight striking the apes feet and rising up its body as it ran towards him, towards the sunlight. He braced himself for the onslaught. Then...KABLAMMM!
Dumbfounded, Marga Dan saw the ape collapse with two huge holes in its chest from which blood spurted out like a fountain. Apparently, his pistol was not as ineffective as he thought, there simply was not enough light to detonate the radium powder inside the building. However, the powder still remained on the ape after the bullets struck.. Once exposed to the sunlight, the powder did what was natural for it, it exploded. Standing there in disbelief, and with his nerves on edge he simply started to laugh. He could not have planned this even if he wanted too. His laugh was that of a man whose nerves had been pushed to the limit. It was almost uncontrollable.
As he stood there laughing he slowly realized that he was not laughing alone. Someone else was laughing with him. Looking around he saw the source of laughter. Not forty feet from him was a green warrior rolling around on the ground laughing his head off. The green savages are a harsh people with a very harsh sense of humor. To them suffering and pain in others is simply the best humor around. Few are the green men that will not fall into a rash of giggling should one of their own trip and crack his head open. Getting a grip of himself, the green man stepped toward the red man still unable to restraint his laughter.
"Did you see that? Did you see his expression as his chest blew open? It was priceless!" The Warhoon exclaimed. "That was a good trick red man, I'll give you that."
Clearly this must be one of the Warhoon that was hunting him. However, there were at least 6 as far as Magra Dan remembered. He knew the fate of two of them, and here is a third.
"Where are your other companions? Weren't there more of you?" asked Magra Dan.
Sobering up a bit, the green man responded "Three of us have remained to look for you. The others have left."
"Well now you found me, what do you plan to do?" Magra Dan already knew the answer, but it was one of those questions one simply asked hoping for the best.
"Well red man I intend on taking you prisoner, so put your weapons away and lets go."
"I don't think I will my friend, you see I have had a very bad day, and I have no intentions of making it worse by becoming your prisoner," replied Magra Dan as he readied himself for a fight.
"Come on red man, your no match for me," the green warrior replied while drawing his long sword. "Besides there are two more of my companions around, and together we will definitely get you."
"Your companions are dead, Calot, and if you don't go on your way, you will find your ancestors much sooner than expected!" said Magra Dan more than a little peeved at being considered such an easy opponent.
The green man's response was swift, with his long sword he rushed Magra Dan, cutting furious swings, planning to overpower Magra Dan as he charged. Magra Dan sidestepped the green man, causing the warrior to rush past him. Then as the green man spun around, Magra Dan cocked his right arm back over his head and hurled his long sword at the green man's chest. With the sword finding the warrior's heart, the green man collapsed, dead. Having had enough surprises, Magra Dan spun around, just in case something else was creeping up on him. However nothing else was. So, without further delay, Magra Dan collected his long sword and retrieved his pistol from the building and made for the quickest exit from this confounded city. Standing at the entrance to the city, Magra Dan looked back at the carnage. "That was kind of fun!" he thought.
Then turning around, he took the first few steps of many hundreds of thousands that stood between here and home. With plenty of time, Magra Dan began planning his next attempt at the speed record.