Beneath the hurtling moons of Barsoom, the angry squeal of a wild thoat echoes, as a lone hero rides out on a mission of honor, to reclaim her lost love, or maybe she's just looking for a good Chinese restaurant.
This is a Daria story, but in the form of a pastiche, a story done in the style of another author, in this case Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's also a parody. If you're a Daria fan, enjoy Heroic Fantasy, and can get past the verbose prose that characterized Burroughs' Martian stories, you'll hopefully enjoy it. But if you're looking for a canonical Daria story, and you hated Depth Takes a Holiday, boy did you come to the wrong place. Leave now, while you still have your sanity.
Daria (and associated characters and locations) is copyright © 1997-2001 MTV Networks
The Martian Series of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it's associated locations and characters, is copyright ©, and copyright renewed, in a variety of years from 1912 to the present, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. (and other entities, depending on the specific novel).
This story is copyright © 2001 Mystik Slacker (firstname.lastname@example.org) and has been written for personal enjoyment. No infringement of the above rights is intended. It's also a parody, so the court protection of such works applies.
Written: February 2001.
Daria awoke suddenly in the darkness, disoriented. Realizing that she was in her bed, she felt about the bedside table for her glasses. The clock read 5:30. She jumped up and ran to her computer, quickly booting it up, and began to type furiously, before the strange dream faded from her mind...
I suppose a word or two of introduction is required, lest the reader of this tale become as confused as I was when first I set foot on this world over ten years ago. I know not how I came to be here on that day, when I awoke naked and alone in the midst of a vast field of red moss. Only later did I learn that it was one of the millennia-dry seabeds of the planet we terrestrials call Mars, but that the natives know as Barsoom.
This world is home to many peoples, but chief among them are the red Martians, who are humanoid, have coppery-red skin, uniformly black hair and reproduce by laying eggs. As my sister would say, eww! The red Martians are divided into many city-states and empires, and fight amongst themselves constantly, but the wild tribes of green Martians are enemies of them all.
A green Martian warrior stands fifteen feet tall, with olive skin, six limbs, and huge china-white tusks protruding from his lower jaw, and with rare exception knows not the concepts of mercy, friendship or honor. Their intermediate limbs can be used as extra legs, for stability, or arms. As fighters, they have no peer.
In the years since my arrival, I have fought and killed many Martians, both green and red, not by choice, as I am peaceful by nature, and would prefer to be left alone. But rare is the Martian who understands the concept of peaceful coexistence. Many will learn if defeated in battle, for they respect strength here, but some will not accept that a small female could be their superior, and will not stop short of death. Nearly every day of my ten years here has been a struggle for survival; the experience has hardened me. Nietzsche would have loved this world. I hate it.
Oddly, I awoke here with perfect vision, which is fortunate given the lack of optometrists. Over the years I have discovered that I heal rapidly, do not appear to age, and have never suffered so much as a mild cold. I do not know what causes this, but it appears to be a condition common to all expatriates from the third planet.
For several years I wandered the world, at first alone, and later with my calot, searching for an explanation as to how I had come to be here or a means to return home, consulting many scientists, but to no avail. I also looked, always without success, for a branch of the Good Time Chinese restaurant, for that chain is widespread, and would likely have provided a way home.
After many adventures, during which I came to know the language used by all the peoples of Barsoom, and learned to fight with sword and gun, at long last I came to the Twin Cities of Helium, greatest of all the cities of the red Martians, and capital of the Empire of Helium. There I earned for myself a position as a Dwar, or Captain, in the army of Helium, which is the principle route to advancement in this warlike culture. In time, I found that my beloved had also been transported here, and we made our home among our newfound friends in Helium. Only later did we discover that we were not the only ones so mysteriously transported from Lawndale.
Unknown to us, a former friend had also arrived, and over time had united several isolated tribes of the fearsome green Martians. Taking over one of the many ruined cities that dot the shores of the dead seas, she formed her own city-state, which she named Escher. But her years alone among the six-limbed green Martians had changed her, and when we finally met, we were strangers to each other. On a diplomatic visit to Helium I, at last, saw Queen Jhane of Escher, and unbeknownst to me her passion for Thom was rekindled. Now, her soldiers had kidnapped him and were fleeing back to their city. I had been given leave to follow, but the government could not send additional forces to assist in what was so obviously a matter of personal honor.
Thus I found myself speeding over the dead sea bottom on an open-topped four-person flier, in pursuit of he whom I hold most dear, assisted only by my calot. Occasionally my flier would be struck by a bullet from those I pursued, for the green Martians are the most expert marksmen in all the world, able to hit a target at a distance, in terrestrial terms, of over 200 miles thanks to the sophisticated aiming systems with which their guns are equipped. Fortunately it was still night, so they could not use the explosive ammunition that depended on sunlight for its triggering. With dawn approaching, I would soon need to fly low and use the curve of the planet to remove myself from their sight, but in the dark that would be far too hazardous at my present speed.
When the two small moons, Cluros and Thuria, are below the horizon, nights on Barsoom are possessed of darkness far more stygian than even the most remote location on Earth. The thin atmosphere, kept breathable only by the ceaseless activity of the world-spanning network of atmosphere plants, holds nearly no dust or moisture, leaving nothing to scatter starlight. The surface of the planet is largely unpopulated, and thus the lights of civilization are absent from most parts of the world. In short, although my instruments told me the distance of my ship above the ground, and would warn of any obstruction that rose near to my altitude, I could see nothing beyond my flier except for the stars above, and a dim impression of landscape somewhere below me, with barely-seen hills and valleys flowing past, soundless except for the scream of air past my windshield, and the occasional ping of a bullet from those I pursued.
Eventually the sky began to lighten, and as dawn in this unrefractory air is a sudden event, I slowed and took my craft lower. Below, I could see the ground rise, and ahead the outline of hills marked the edge of the sea bottom I had been flying over all night. We had come most of the way to Escher, which was on the far side of a former isthmus I was about to cross.
Suddenly, as dawn broke over the world, there was an explosion from the prow of my flier, which bucked and would have thrown Stacy and I off but for our safety straps. The green Martians must have been firing explosive bullets all night, in the hope that one or more would lodge in my craft and be triggered by the sun, as indeed one had. Such dishonorable behavior was only to be expected of them, and I chided myself for not foreseeing it, even as I struggled to regain control. Unfortunately, the explosion must have pierced the forward buoyancy tank, and gradually the nose of the craft sank. I cut the throttle, as the vessel assumed a vertical orientation, and carefully lowered the vehicle to the ground below.
Grounded, I released the safety straps, and Stacy bounded off with what passes for a bark of joy among his species. My mood was less joyful: I could repair the buoyancy tank but lacked a supply of the eighth ray required to fill it. I was afoot, with hundreds of miles of wilderness to cover before I reached my destination. Fortunately I was armed, as the predators of Barsoom would make a quick snack of the fiercest terrestrial lion. Even so, the risk was great, but as there was no alternative I took inventory and began to prepare for my journey.
My craft was well stocked with ammunition and concentrated food, as well as more mundane tools for navigating and living in the wild. I packed quickly, clipping pouches and bags to my leather harness as I went. I had, perforce, adopted the local style of dress when I found myself here, with a few alterations to suit my own tastes. The dress of the red Martians, and indeed of most of the peoples of the planet, consisted simply of an abbreviated leather harness designed more for utility than modesty, a concept seemingly foreign to this world. Mine was decorated with the metal emblems denoting my city, family, rank, and personal accomplishments, but with rather more material in some locations than the average Barsoomian would consider strictly necessary. Even after ten years, I have not outgrown the culture of my childhood. I find it ironic that I, who never cared for fashion as did my sister, miss my green jacket and black skirt more than any other aspect of my old life. Fortunately, the red Martians have sensible ideas regarding footwear, and my boots were well suited to an overland trek.
After one last check of my supplies, I shouldered my pack, and whistled for Stacy, who bounded back to me. Then I set out for the ridge marking the edge of the former ocean in a series of long bounds, with Stacy in hot pursuit. I should mention that my terrestrial muscles, coupled with the lower gravity of this world, allowed me to move with speed and agility far surpassing any of the natural denizens. That was all that had kept me alive when I first found myself here, and now it enabled a ground-eating pace that would permit me to cross the hundreds of miles ahead in a matter of days. Fortunately, at least in this case, the necessities of life on Barsoom had required me to give up the indolent lifestyle I would prefer, and I was in excellent physical shape for such a trip. I do miss the days I spent counting ceiling cracks from my bed, or sprawled on the couch in front of the television, but there are few opportunities for such relaxation here.
Crossing the open quay behind the docks quickly, I made my way into one of the buildings, and ascertained that it was empty. Moving deeper into the city, using the buildings for cover, Stacy and I found no indications of recent habitation. This made me all the more nervous, as recent use by the green Martians would make the presence of white apes less likely. I continued deeper into the city for several hours, breaking for lunch around midday, then continuing. I hoped to be beyond the city before nightfall; although there are many dangers in the wild, I can outrun most, and the constrained spaces of the city limit the advantages of my superior agility. I have always preferred to run from danger rather than to kill, a characteristic that puzzles my Martian friends.
Late in the day, my luck finally failed me, as I was making my way through yet another abandoned building. Moving quickly, perhaps too quickly because of my desire to leave the city, I rounded a corner and came face to face with a great white ape. They are an ugly species, hairless except for a shock of white hair atop the head, and with pale skin, they look like a caricature of a terrestrial human, but have no known language, and display no evidence of intelligence; for some reason they remind me of football players. This one must have been a juvenile, as it only stood twelve feet tall. I don't know which of us was the more surprised, it froze as I approached, and I barely diverted my headlong flight to avoid crashing into it, an event that would likely have been fatal, as they are fierce carnivores. With a quiet grunt it turned to follow me, and I accelerated, attempting to outpace it, but the low ceiling limited the length of my bounds, and it slowly overtook me.
I was going to have to fight it, but the fact that it had made no loud sounds was a sign that others of its kind were about, and it wanted this meal to itself. If I used my radium pistol, the noise would draw the rest of the pack. Killing a great ape with a sword is not impossible, merely improbable, as its vital organs are buried beneath a layer of muscle and fat that is difficult to pierce. I needed an advantage, and quickly.
Entering a large atrium, I found what I sought, a sunken courtyard that went down three levels, further than an ape could jump. Light filtered down from an opening in the roof, several stories above. If I could lure it over the edge, I would be long gone before it found its way back up, but these buildings are the apes natural habitat, and it would not be easily fooled. I drew my sword, and suddenly reversed my course, leaping over and past it, and cutting down at its head as I went. I struck it, not deeply enough to cause serious injury, but enough to annoy.
The ape spun, but I was already well past; altering my course to the side, I led it a merry chase. I kept moving, and doubled back frequently, getting the ape in the habit of turning to pursue me. While I was at this, Stacy caught up, and joined the fun, darting in to snap at its legs with his vicious teeth, and then away when I distracted the ape. Stacy and I have been a team for many years, and worked together effortlessly.
Gradually we maneuvered the ape close to the edge, and then Stacy distracted it, while I made a great jump over its head, cutting it once again. The ape turned and leaped, nearly catching me, but I had timed it right, and the ape discovered it was trying to walk on air just before it caught me, and dropped into the pit like the animated coyote I remembered from my childhood, while I sailed across and landed on the far side.
Turning to look down, I saw to my horror that the courtyard below was occupied; a party of green Martians had encamped there. Worse, there appeared to be no warriors in the camp at present, and the ape had landed in the midst of a group of unarmed women, scattering them in all directions. While the green Martians are well equipped for battle, with their tusks and fierce nature, the apes are equally well armed with claws and teeth, and fiercer yet. Although I hold no love for the green Martians, nor they for me, I could not stand by and be responsible for the death of innocents. Accordingly, I launched myself down at the beast with a yell to attract its attention.
The ape seemed torn between resuming our fight, or attacking the group it had fallen among; as it dithered I struck: bouncing off its back, and cutting it a deep gash in the back of the head with my sword. All uncertainty forgot, the ape turned on me with a roar, and nearly caught me as I landed on the ground flat on my back.
Fortunately, one of the women hit the ape on the shoulder with a hurled cook pot, and I recovered my footing while it batted the harmless crockery into dust. I dashed past it, sinking my sword deeply into the region of its kidney as I went by, but with apparently no effect other than to further enrage it. Deciding that the noise we were making was already substantial, I drew my pistol and shot the ape. The explosive ammunition blew a crater in its chest a full foot across, and the ape, with a surprised look, died.
Holstering my pistol, I turned to the women. They looked at me with the suspicion that all green Martians harbor for those not of their tribe, but without the open enmity with which they often greet strangers. In quick conversation I learned that they were a foraging party from Escher, sent to the city in search of a pack of wild thoats that had been observed by an air patrol. The wild thoat is a much larger creature than the domesticated thoat that I ride back in Helium, and much prized by the green Martians as both pack animal and mount.
I cautioned the leader of the women, whose name was Nala, that there were probably other white apes in the vicinity. She responded that they had arms, and only the unexpected arrival of the ape from above had prevented her companions from reaching them before they were attacked. She also expected her warriors to return shortly, as the sound of the fight would have carried for some distance. I apologized for involving them in my fight, but Nala laughed and said that it was the most fun they had had all week. With that, I took my leave, and leaped by up to where Stacy had been waiting.
Quickly, we fled the building, and a short time later we exited the city into the surrounding wastes. The highlands between the dead seas are, if anything, even more desolate, consisting mainly of barren rocky outcrops sheltering scrub plants, and the ever-present red moss. Although open water was non-existent, there is a plant which concentrates water into a milky beverage, and between that and my concentrated rations, I was in no danger of starvation, although meals had a blandness that caused me to think nostalgically of my old high school cafeteria.
We made good time through the wasteland, moving throughout the day, as well as at night when the moons were both high and cast sufficient light to see the irregular ground. When it grew dark, Stacy and I curled up together for warmth, and took turns sleeping, preventing any of the local wildlife from making a meal of us. Only once did we need to run from a predator, when we spied a banth in the distance. The Martian banth is a cousin of the calot, although it grows far larger, and has some similarities to a terrestrial cat, if you can imagine a cat that stands ten feet at the shoulder. It is a beautiful creature, seen from a safe distance, and the most terrifying animal I have ever encountered when seen up close. Fortunately, it did not notice us, and I was spared the need to kill it, for a hunting banth rarely abandons prey that it decides to pursue.
After several days of travel, we topped a ridge, and saw the city of Escher in the distance. Quickly, I dropped back below the ridge, and waited for night without even looking towards the city again. The guards of a city keep close watch on the surrounding land, to prevent being surprised by an invading force, and making myself visible to the city walls would likely result in our discovery. We lay in the shadow of a rock outcrop, which would hide us from casual observation if anyone flew overhead, and waited for nightfall.
At night, a Martian city is a quiet place, as people keep to their homes after dark. Moving through the city was simply a matter of avoiding the occasional patrol; not too difficult given the amount of noise they made.
The palace of the Queen was easily located; not only was it the largest building in the city, it was also the only one painted with a mural depicting the uniting of the tribes and the founding of the city by Queen Jhane. Subtlety has never been an attribute of her personality. Leaving Stacy to wait for me, I quickly climbed the rough exterior of the building to its top-most story, nearly five hundred feet above the ground. Fortunately, Martian architecture is rich in exterior detail, and that coupled with the low gravity made the climb a simple task.
Entering through a balcony, once I had identified the Queen's apartments, I encountered only one guard inside the apartment itself, stationed outside the door of the Queen's bedchamber. Hoping to avoid his death, I drew my sword and leaped the length of the hall in a single bound, cutting the guard's harness and dropping his sidearm to the floor out of reach. The guard swung his ceremonial spear at me, but did not call for help. I had counted on this, as Martians usually mistook my slight appearance for weakness, and even green Martians are concerned with appearing self-sufficient. To call for help against such a minor nuisance, and a female at that, is so totally against their nature that they do not even consider it.
Easily leaping over the spear, which resembled nothing so much as a flagpole with a sharp point, I cut the guard deeply across his chest; a wound that would gradually weaken him, but by no means a fatal one. I bounced off the wall, as one of his free hands made a grab for my legs that would have snapped them like twigs had I remained there. As I flew away, I cut down at one of the hands holding the spear. The wound was not severe, but it distracted him long enough for me to hit the far wall of the hallway and ricochet back. This time I brought the hilt of my sword down atop his head with the full force of my terrestrial muscles, knocking him unconscious in an instant. I stepped over his body, and entered the Queen's chamber.
Walking past several easels with paintings in various stages of completion, I approached the bed. Jumping onto it, I brought the point of my sword to the Queen's throat, just as the motion of the bed woke her and she began to sit up. Feeling my sword, she stopped and looked at me with wild eyes.
"Daria? What are you doing here? And move that sword, dammit, you nearly cut my throat!"
"I go by Dar-Eya now, Jhane, and as for the sword, the only reason I haven't cut your throat is the memory of our former friendship. Now tell me where he is, or I may just forget about the old days altogether."
"Where who is? What are you talking about?"
"My husband, of course, why else would I be here?"
"Your husband? Tom, err, Thom? I thought you had him nicely domesticated, keeping the home fires burning in Helium while you adventured about the globe. Why should I know where he is? Did you two have a fight or something?"
I poked her with the sword. "Quit stalling. I know you have him; your soldiers were observed kidnapping him, and two of their bodies, complete with insignia, were found where they fought with my household guards."
Jhane scowled, a familiar expression from the old days, although she'd never turned it on me before. It was an expression she reserved for the terminally stupid, which included most other inhabitants of Lawndale, but she only used it in exceptional situations. Seeing that look turned on me shook my certainty that I was right, but years of combat training kept my sword in place.
"So, just because someone leaves a couple of bodies wearing my troops' uniforms in your hallway, I have to be the guilty party? The Daria I knew was never that stupid, but obviously Dar-Eya, Dwar of the third Utan, of the second Dar, of the magnificent twenty-seventh Umak, does her thinking with her sword!"
"How did you know my station?" I asked, shaken by her observation, at least in part because it was something I should have considered, but had completely overlooked.
"Oh come on, amiga, we were friends. Even if you consider yourself too good to associate with someone who lives with green Martians, I haven't forgotten who we used to be. As soon as I discovered you were here, I found out everything I could, and came to Helium to visit you, but you wouldn't even talk to me!"
"But I was just a padwar then, and you were a visiting head of state. I couldn't talk to you in public, and I wasn't invited to any of the parties thrown in your honor. You could have called on me at my home if you wanted to talk to me!"
"Jeeze, Daria, you really have bought into this whole paternalistic culture, haven't you? When was the last time you spoke your mind in public? Or are you so busy being a good little conformist, you don't even have opinions of your own anymore?"
"Of course I have opinions, but I got tired of having to kill every idiot I offended with them. It's easier just to let them think whatever they like, and ignore them. I have friends I can talk to, but they aren't the people you'd meet on a state visit. If you came to visit me, why make such a production of it?"
"Daria, you are such an innocent sometimes. There aren't very many options for a boatload of green Martians in a red Martian city. We were either raiders or diplomats in their eyes. Personally, I'd rather attend a state banquet than my own execution any day."
"I think I'd opt for the execution, myself." I smiled, relieved to find that I believed her, and lowered my sword. "But, if you didn't kidnap Thom, who did?"
"Good question." Jhane sat up, and I noticed that she was wearing something that looked suspiciously like a t-shirt.
"Where did you get that shirt?"
"I had it made. When you're a Queen, you get to tell people to do things like that. Come here." She slid out of the bed, and walked to the side of the room, opening a door into a walk-in closet filled with clothes. Walking to the back, she reached into a rack, and pulled out a hanger with a green jacket, orange t-shirt, and black skirt. She handed it to me. "I had this made too, after I saw what you were wearing in Helium, or not wearing."
My breath caught in my throat. "My God, Jane," I said in English, "it's the most beautiful thing I've seen in ten years!" I noticed I was still holding my sword, and sheathed it. Then, for the first time in years, I was conscious of what I was wearing, and could feel my cheeks heating with a blush.
"Nice leather bikini." Jhane said, "I could never get you to wear anything that scanty when I wanted to paint you."
"That's right, oh mighty Queen, rub it in. I'd actually stopped noticing it years ago," I said, "it's more substantial than what I started out with when I first arrived."
"Me too, but I prefer real clothing. There's a bathroom over on the other side of the room, why don't you go soak for a while, you smell like a calot for some reason. I need to send the guard to gather my council of chiefs, and have him bring some breakfast back, and both will take time since I haven't installed an elevator yet."
"Uh, Jhane, you'll need to get another guard while you're at it, the one outside the door is taking a nap."
"I was wondering how you got in here. How did you get by the dozen in the main hall?"
"I came in through the window."
"That's okay then, an occasional fatality keeps them on their toes, but if you killed a dozen, I'd need to talk fast to keep their whole tribe from declaring a blood feud against you."
"I'd rather avoid that, it's been a long week. Incidentally, I smell like a calot because I've been camping in the wild with one for several days. I should go out and let him in before someone notices he's outside your palace and decides to have a late snack."
"Do that after the bath. I need to get my guards used to the idea you're in here first, so we don't have any accidents from excess enthusiasm."
While I had been soaking, I had heard sounds of activity from outside, and returning to the main chamber, I discovered that a table had been laid with a feast, and Jhane was engaged in eating breakfast.
"Thanks for waiting for me."
"Hey, we don't stand on ceremony here. Grab a chair and dig in, we've got a council meeting as soon as we're done."
"How soon? I still need to let Stacy in."
Jhane looked up, surprised. "Stacy? She's here too?"
I had to think for a moment, as I'd actually forgotten where my calot's name had originated.
"No, Stacy is my calot. I named her that because of the hurt look she gives me when I have to yell at her for something."
Jhane laughed. "She did have that hurt-puppy look, didn't she? I'd forgotten that. Anyway, we'll have time, the council will wait for their Queen." She looked thoughtful. "Daria, have you ever discovered how the three of us came to be brought here, or if anyone else is here?"
"No, the best scientists of Helium have been unable to come up with an explanation. There have been other people from Earth who came here, always by some form of projection that left their body sleeping on Earth while they were gone, but never more than one at a time."
"You mean, even though we're on Mars, our bodies are back home somehow?"
"That's the way it's worked in the past, but usually it was the result of some traumatic event, and I don't recall anything like that, so who knows."
"Yeah, the last thing I remember was going to bed, after you and Tom left, the night the three of us had gone out for dinner. A full stomach was rare at casa Lane, but hardly traumatic."
"Thom and I have similar memories; he dropped me at home, I argued with Quinn about whose turn it was to take out the trash, and went to bed." I smiled, thinking that it was odd to have fond memories of a fight, but it was really that a fight like that was so typical of my relationship with my sister that it helped me to remember her. I wondered if I would ever see her again.
Jhane set down the fruit she'd been eating, and leaned forward. "So, you called Tom your husband earlier, when did you get married?"
"Oh, about six years back, shortly after I arrived in Helium and discovered he was there."
"No, I've been too busy with my military career, and there doesn't seem to be any urgency; at twenty-eight I still appear to be eighteen. What about you?"
Jhane smiled. "I've got eight thousand people ready to wait on me hand and foot, who needs a husband?" Her look turned more somber. "Besides, there aren't any eligible bachelors around who aren't fifteen feet tall. I prefer my men a bit shorter than that."
"Jhane, how did you come to be Queen anyway? I never heard any details."
"I'm not surprised, I've never told anyone. The full story is too long for today, but the short answer is that one of the tribes captured me. Did you know that among the green Martians, the men do all the fighting, but don't have any other skills? The woman make the weapons and ammunition, they build and repair the wagons, and harvest and prepare the food."
"Typical Barsoomian behavior, the men have the power and the women do the work, not that much different from home."
"That's what they thought, until I introduced the women to the concept of collective bargaining."
I looked at Jhane, dumbstruck. "You unionized the green Martian women, and they made you Queen? Why didn't they just kill you?"
"Like I said, it's a long story. They certainly wanted to, but I'd planned it carefully. Eventually they had to give in to the women, and accept their representative onto the tribal council. Over time, I introduced novel ideas like farming and manufacturing crafts for trade to the red Martians. They'd barely had a subsistence economy before that, with trade they could afford luxuries. Eventually, other tribes joined us to get in on the action; this is the highest standard of living these people have ever known. After a few years of squabbling among themselves over who would be the boss, they finally appointed me Queen just to end the arguments."
"It can't have been that easy."
"Well, no, but it makes a good story," Jhane smiled, "and the reality wasn't too different. If you're done eating, we should go find Stacy, and meet with the council."
"Councilors, chiefs, and representatives of the guilds of Escher, I call this meeting to order." Jhane said, "Does anyone wish to speak before I lay my business before you?"
One older man, judging from the dark tint of his green skin, rose: "My Queen, why do you permit a warrior of our hated enemies, the red men, to bear weapons in your presence?"
"This is Dar-Eya of Lawndale, an old and valued friend from Earth, and if she were going to kill me, she'd have done so before now."
The tribal chief, as so I judged him, inclined his tusked head to her in acknowledgement, and sat down. Another, younger, man rose in his place.
"Even here in Escher, five thousand haads from Helium, we have heard of the exploits of Dwar Dar-Eya. What brings you, alone, to our city?"
That was my cue. "Honored councilors, a week ago green Martians, disguised as soldiers of Escher, stole my husband from the very heart of Helium. This was obviously an attempt to cause strife between our countries, which, while not friends, have never had cause to fight ere this. I have come to find who would so wish to dishonor your name, and to recover my beloved from their clutches."
At this, the councilors broke into a myriad of rapid conversations among themselves, while Jhane watched impassively. When all were busy, she turned to me and winked; our stratagem had succeeded, and what had been my problem alone had become an attack on the entire city-state of Escher. Whoever was responsible for kidnapping Thom was about to have a really bad day.
As the conversations died down, the elderly man, who appeared to be senior among the councilors, rose and addressed Jhane: "My Queen, there are many who are jealous of our success, and would wish to sow dissent between Helium and Escher. However, few have vehicles capable of reaching Helium, or the subtlety required for such a plan. We think that this is the work of Tal Karas, whom you exiled last year. He has many friends within the city who would aid him, and a bitter enmity for you personally."
"Jhane," I asked, "why is this man so upset with you that he would start a war in revenge?"
"He was one of my best scientists, responsible for many of the innovations that allow us to grow food and herd animals on this barren highland. But his interest in the mysteries of life led him to experiment on prisoners. I should have executed him when he was caught, but in recognition of his past services, I exiled him instead. He was never well balanced, and I fear he has descended into madness, and is focused on destroying me as the first step of his return to power."
"Great, a mad scientist. Any other surprises you want to let me in on?"
"He was always intrigued by my terrestrial physiology. It is likely that he took Thom, not just to start a war, but for his research." Jhane turned to her council, "Do we know where he is hiding?"
The elderly chief replied: "He has taken over an old fortress a day's march east of here. We could easily conquer it, but not before he could kill the captive. We must act carefully, and not simply attack."
I was startled, although I remained expressionless; a green Martian warrior considering the fate of a prisoner, rather than rushing to attack an individual, who had raised a threat against his country and ruler, was an event that defied logic. It seemed that not all of the green Martians were the unthinking savages that I knew from past encounters, or perhaps I had just not taken the time to know them better. This thought, and Jhanes earlier words about my tendency to accept the world as others defined it, caused me to wonder if it were I, and not the Martians, who had been acting like a savage.
"Yes," Jhane said, "Dar-Eya and I will need to infiltrate his fortress and free Thom before you can lead the army against him."
I blinked; this was not what we had discussed. The chief did not seem much taken with the idea either, and instantly objected.
"My Queen, my respect for your courage is unbounded, but you are not a warrior! We have troops who are skilled raiders, let us send some of them with Dar-Eya instead."
Jhane stood, nearly vibrating with anger, and addressed the council as a whole.
"No! I have finally found my friend after all these years, and I will not abandon her. Two small terrestrials can infiltrate far better than a squad of Martians, and Dar-Eya can handle any fighting. If it comes to a pitched battle, we will have failed in our mission. My decision is final. We will leave immediately, and you will follow with the army at dawn. I have spoken."
She had closed with the formal words marking a rulers decision, and the councilors appeared to accept her authority. The older man nodded, and sat.
Jhane dismissed the meeting, and the councilors exited the room rapidly. Jhane and I, followed by Stacy and the squad of twelve guards, walked rapidly to the rooftop, where a patrol flier was waiting. She had apparently been planning such a move all along. As we boarded, I turned to her.
"Jhane, this is madness. Let me enter the fortress on my own. Stacy and I have years of experience in such raids, and I doubt you have had much experience of personal combat as a Queen."
"None at all," Jhane replied, with a rueful grin, "I discovered early on that I could not bring myself to kill, even in self-defense. I can order my troops to their deaths, or the execution of a criminal, but I cannot kill with my own hands. I suppose that's hypocritical of me, but that's the way I'm put together. However, I won't let you do this alone."
"It's not hypocritical; the duties of a ruler and the actions of an individual are not the same. I sometimes regret how this world has changed me, but it is foolish to regret a fact. As long as I am part of a world filled with violence, I will fight back with every ability I have, rather than allow the brutal to win simply because they do not have such qualms. I might wish it otherwise, but the truth is that I am glad that I am able to do so."
I paused; this was a subject I had never discussed, not even with Thom. But I had always been able to open my heart to Jhane, and to realize that I still trusted her this much after all these years apart robbed me of my voice. Jhane seemed to realize this, and changed the subject.
"So, amiga, how are we going to infiltrate this fortress once we get there? You're the hero, so I'm hoping you have a plan, because I'm fresh out of ideas."
I smiled, and began to outline my thoughts.
Approaching the building, which was a walled structure with several inner towers of modest height, we waited for Thuria to set, plunging the land into darkness. While we waited I observed the rounds of the guards, and discovered that there were only two, who walked a circuit atop the wall. There could have been others inside the grounds, but that was unlikely; the fact that only two were atop the wall suggested that there were few guards available, and to waste them on the ground, when they would have been more effective atop the wall or a tower, made little sense.
Once the moon set, I dashed to the wall, and using my superior terrestrial muscles leaped to the top in a single bound, out of sight of either guard. Quickly I dropped to the ground inside, and waited for them to complete their next circuit. While I waited, I examined the area between the towers, finding a few abandoned outbuildings, but no guards. When it was time, I opened a lesser gate in the wall, and signaled Jhane and Stacy to join me.
The three of us made our way to the largest tower, and trying a back door, found it unlocked and unguarded. They must have felt confident indeed that their ruse had gone undiscovered, or they would have been more cautious. We made our way to the center of the tower, where stairs led both up and down into the pits below the tower. I signaled that we were to descend, but Jhane demurred.
"Why down? Wouldn't a prisoner of this importance be held close to the apartments of Tal Karas, which are surely at the highest level of the tower?"
I have been in many of these old buildings, and while each is different, they often have features in common. Thus, I had reason, based on experience, for my decision.
"If he is indeed using Thom for his experiments, he will most likely be found in the pits below the tower; that is where there will likely be large storerooms that could have been converted to laboratories, and cells for holding prisoners securely."
Jhane nodded, and we began our descent. The stairwell, and many of the rooms adjoining it, were illuminated by bright, white light, given off by oil-lamps of a kind usually only encountered in the cities of the red Martians, due to the difficulty in obtaining the oil used in them. Their presence here suggested that Tal Karas did, indeed, have friends outside providing him with supplies, and also suggested that this stairwell was frequently used, as such lights would not be wasted on a mere storeroom.
After descending several stories, the stairs ended outside the doorway to a large, and well-lighted room. Signaling Jhane and Stacy to silence, I crept to the doorway and peered into the room. My breath caught in my throat as I spied my beloved, strapped to a table at the far end of the room.
The table was enclosed in a large wire mesh cage. Inside the cage a green Martian, presumably the scientist, was working on a machine of unknown purpose, which was connected both to the cage and to the table holding Thom, with many wires. Oddly, there were no others in the room, and as Tal Karas had already chosen to act without honor, I was under no constraint to do so myself. I drew my pistol, and took careful aim at his back.
Alas, the cage must have produced some field of force that shielded those inside, as the bullet that should have ended his life, instead ricocheted from the cage with a loud noise. The scientist turned in surprise, and quickly drew his sword, leveling it at Thom's throat.
"As you can see, I am beyond the reach of your weapon. Throw it down, and come here unarmed, or I will kill this prisoner."
Waving Jhane and Stacy to remain out of sight, I threw out my pistol and sword, and walked into the room. As I approached the cage, I noticed a door in the side; I also noted that Thom was awake, but gagged so that he could not speak. He saw me approach, and his eyes were wild, as he strained against his bonds, apparently overcome by emotion. I, too, was wracked by emotion, as love for my beloved and hatred for the one who held him prisoner warred for dominance.
Tal Karas threw several switches, and a high-pitched hum that I had not even been aware of ceased. He motioned me to enter the door, and I did so, eager to come within reach of this monster. As I entered, he gestured me to the far side of the room, keeping the table holding my beloved between us, and with a glance at the sword he held to Thom's throat, I complied.
"From your outlandish costume, you must be another terrestrial. Do I have the honor of addressing Dar-Eya of Lawndale?" He said, in a voice that suggested he already knew the answer.
"No, I'm the Avon lady. Working in this cold dungeon must be hard on your skin, would you be interested in some moisturizer?"
"Bah, do not seek to deceive me, my spies reported that you were in Escher, and I knew it was only a matter of time until you found me. Unlike that weakling Queen, you are not one to hide from a fight."
"In that case, since you know my reputation, let my husband go, and we can save a great deal of needless bloodshed." As I spoke, I move to my right, closer to Thom, causing the scientist to turn to face me, and placing his back to the entrance of the room once again.
"I cannot do that," he replied, "I need him for my machine."
"What, this," I said, motioning to the machine beside the platform, and hoping to distract him, "what does it do?"
"It is an amplifier. As you may know, the body has a natural electrical field. My researches have discovered that, as I suspected, there is a correspondence between the field of a body and that of the world from which it comes. By artificially amplifying this man's field, and feeding it into the cage that surrounds us, I can transport myself and my equipment to your world. Then using my own body's field, I can return with additional slaves and raw materials from your resource-rich planet."
My heart leaped as the implication sank home: here was a way for us to return to Earth. But first, I needed to deal with this madman.
"In that case, we do not need to be enemies. Let Thom and I return to Earth, and we will help you gladly." I did not, of course, mean this, as even the idiots of Lawndale deserved better than to be slaves to a madman on a foreign world, but it was a way to gain time, as I had observed Jhane and Stacy making a stealthy approach across the room. Jhane had collected my weapons as she came, and while she would not use them herself, if she could get them to me, I would make quick work of our enemy.
"I do not need your willing assistance," Tal Karas said with a sneer, "you will do as I say, or I will kill this man. The field will persist long enough after death to suit my needs, if necessary, although I would prefer not to be constrained, so I will let him live if you do not force me."
As he spoke, a gray blur launched itself through the still open door, and across the table. In reflex he lifted the sword to defend himself, and I took advantage of his distraction and leaped to the attack. Before I could even join the fray, Stacy sunk his teeth into Tal Karas' shoulder, and near-severed his upper arm. Tal Karas stabbed Stacy with the sword, but a calot is a tough beast, and more than a simple sword wound is required to kill one, unless the sword is wielded with more precision than he displayed.
While Stacy and Tal Karas grappled, I landed on his other shoulder, and pounded his head with my fists, to little effect. Behind me, Jhane entered the cage, and discarding the weapons, moved to free Thom.
The scientist tried to redirect the sword at me, but was unable to free it from Stacy's body. Blood poured from the torn shoulder to which Stacy still clung. He seemed disoriented, although whether from blood loss or my continued pounding on his skull, I could not say. He reeled, and staggered back against the mysterious machine, damaging it severely. Sparks flew, his body thrashed, and I was thrown across the cage. Landing, I could feel the electrical hum return. Jhane yelled, as she was flung off Thom by a shock from the wires still connected to the table.
The hum became a scream, drilling into my brain, and the last thing I saw was the room outside the cage seeming to fall away, and then darkness claimed me.
"Daria," Helen called, distantly, "are you home? It's Jane."
She picked up the phone. "I've got it, Mom," she replied, and waited for the click.
"I didn't wake you, did I?" asked Jane, after Helen hung up the extension.
Daria chuckled. "No, I've been writing, but what are you doing up before sunset?"
"It's after sunset, haven't you looked outside recently? I've been painting since before dawn," said Jane. "You'll never believe the weird dream I had, all about Mars. It must have been that huge dinner we had last night at Good Time Chinese."
"Me too. I think I need to see those paintings, Jane. I'll bring my story, see you in a half-hour." Daria hung up the phone, and sat thinking. They'd discussed the history of fantasy fiction over dinner last night, and the role Burroughs and other pulp authors had played in forming the genre. That must have been the cause of her dream. Still, it was weird that Jane had dreamed about Mars also.
Rising, she walked to her bed and looked out the window, deep in thought. Over the roof of the neighbors' house, the red glint of Mars could be seen in the twilight. It must have been just a dream, she thought to herself. Mustn't it?
Motion on the bed attracted her eye, and she looked down to see a puppy lying there, apparently a St. Bernard, although the gray coloring marked it as a mongrel, gazing at her with affection.
As noted in the beginning, this story was intentionally written in the rather wordy, first-person narrative style used by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the books of his Martian Series. Perhaps it is this form of writing that makes these stories less widely known than his more famous Tarzan of the Apes, which was written in a less wordy third-person style more acceptable to a modern reader. A Princess of Mars was the first of 91 books written by ERB, but Tarzan was written in the same year (1912).
If you made it this far, congratulations. I'm not entirely sure why I wrote something so completely off the beaten track. In part it was because I wanted to write something with a simple, straightforward, plot, and partly it is simply a homage to one of the pioneers of the modern Heroic Fantasy field. Hopefully, at least a few people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I wrote this story for the above reasons, but also as an exploration of Daria's character. In the TV series, she has often shown a tendency to verbal humor of a violent nature. I don't believe for a moment that this means she is a violent person, merely that such statements are one way she deals with her feelings of powerlessness. One of the interesting opportunities here was placing her in a world where she isn't powerless, as her terrestrial origin (per Burroughs) makes her physically superior to even the greatest fighters of Barsoom. Seeing how she would adapt to having power, in a world where might defines right, was the structure on which the story was built. Daria also has a tendency to think in terms of absolutes (there is right, and wrong, in her world view, but she's not very good at accepting compromises between the two extremes). Since such compromise is the normal way of the world, this is one of the things that makes her a disillusioned idealist (the definition of cynic), and I used it in her tendency to accept the absolutes (e.g., green Martians are unfeeling brutes) voiced by the people around her. Of course, she's intelligent enough to realize when the facts contradict her preconceptions. There is no moral to this story, it's simply an exploration of how she'd behave with a fundamental aspect of her world reversed, done in the form of an adventure story. I didn't plan how she'd behave in advance, I just wrote it as I went, and rewrote the parts that seemed out of character later.
If you've ever read any of the Martian Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which chronicle the adventures of Captain John Carter of Virginia and others on the red planet, you'll recognize many of the plot elements here. I didn't parallel any specific tale, but even ERB recycled the same events and situations in multiple stories. The seventh Mars book, A Fighting Man of Mars, was probably the largest single inspiration, but it's hardly the same story. The pursuit by the hero of a kidnapped heroine was one of ERBs staple plot devices, and he stole it from the ancient Greeks. I merely swapped the genders. Place names (with the exception of Escher), animals, the various peoples and cultures of Mars, and the technology, are all exactly as described in his books, except for the civilized green Martians, which can be seen as an outgrowth of Tars Tarkas' effect on the Tharks a century and a half before this story, if you want a justification. Tal Karas' machine is my own invention, but is in keeping with the "science" described in the books.
Nietzsche would have loved this world - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a nineteenth century German philosopher, perhaps best known, at least by heroic fantasy fans, for the quote "that which does not kill us makes us stronger", which director John Milius used to introduce the first Conan movie. A more appropriate one here might be: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." (Beyond Good and Evil, 1886). Daria was referring to the Milius quote. And no, I don't make a habit of reading philosophy, but Bartlett's Familiar Quotations is a reference no writer should be without (it's also fun to read).
Daria's lack of aging - John Carter never ages throughout the years he spends on Mars, but there is mention that he'd never aged on Earth, either, so it wasn't his presence there that did it. Since we know Daria does age normally on Earth, I had to either ignore this bit, or alter it slightly. I chose to alter it, to keep her character as close to Carter's as possible. It also gave me a way to duck the problem of a hero who can't see anything without the glasses she left at home.
Thom, Jhane, and Dar-Eya - These are the Barsoomian pronunciations of their usual names (don't ask me how to pronounce them, I don't speak Barsoomian). Jane, less immersed in the culture than Daria, tends to use the English pronunciations unless she's being careful. I did this mainly to drive home the point that we weren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Good Time Chinese - This is the restaurant that, according to the episode Depth Takes a Holiday, exists on multiple planes of reality, interconnected by wormholes. If you prefer to think of that episode as a dream, well I certainly left you the same out here. If you consider the episode an aberration of an otherwise sensible writing team, well what are you doing reading this story?
Clothing, or not - Burroughs repeatedly states that Martians run around naked except for the leather harnesses on which they hang their equipment. This always struck me as silly behavior for people constantly cutting at each other with bladed weapons, and especially as he went to pains to note that the nights are often cold, but it's his world and I have to live with it as he defined it. Daria's choice of a "leather bikini" in a land of g-strings parallels her choice of a jacket in a land of t-shirts.
Boots - actually, the Barsoom novels don't seem to mention footwear at all, which probably means ERB meant everyone to run about barefoot. This is no sillier than the lack of clothing, but I just couldn't accept it for some reason, so I assumed that at least soldiers wore boots, and it was just too obvious to mention.
Was it a dream? I'll leave that to each of you to decide for yourself. Am I going to write a sequel? Probably not. Ending the story in such a way that a sequel is possible is typical pulp writing, but I can't really see much benefit in additional Darian stories of the red planet. Of course, if I do think of a reason for writing one, that would be another matter.