Another Martian Princess
This story was started a week or so before Amberlynn Kain submitted her Barsoomian adventure. Unfortunately, the basic plot is similar. So here is another take on a Martian Princess -- Ed.
As I crossed the street from the Veterans’ hospital parking garage, I couldn’t help but wonder again why my uncle had sent for me. The last time I saw him was the week he’d shipped off to Afghanistan. Six months later, he’d become officially listed as missing in action until he’d been found this month in a mountainous region of Afghanistan by some villagers, half-mad and raving eleven months after he’d disappeared.
Captain Richard Parker had been my favorite uncle when I was a kid. I always loved his stories whether it was some military action he’d experienced, or some other adventure he had across the Middle East and South-east Asia. More than once, my mom had to ask him to stop when the story started to get a little too off-color for a child.
A few minutes after checking with the front desk, I arrived at my uncle’s room. Like most of the rooms, the door was open and from the hall I could only see the foot of his bed. I paused for a moment before entering, double-checking the name on the room’s entrance. I walked in and involuntarily sucked in my breath. Even though it had been eleven months away from civilization, he didn’t look any worse for wear. In fact, he didn’t look any different from the way I remembered him from when I was a kid. From what we had managed to learn from various military personnel, when he was found, he only had a few day’s beard growth, and his perennial “high and tight”, but his uniform had looked like it had been weathered for a year, tattered and covered in dust.
“Hey, Uncle Rick,” I said as I came around to the foot of his bed. He was staring out the window. “It’s Marty, your nephew.”
He continued to stare out the window; his eyes seemed focused on something very far away. Finally, he turned his head toward me. Despite his youthful appearance, his eyes looked tired and aged. Waving me to a chair, he said, “Marty! It’s great to see you. Pull up a chair. Man! I can’t believe you’re all grown up! I always think of you as a little guy.”
“I just turned twenty-one!” I said, as I sat down and reached out to clasp his hand. “I booked a flight here as soon as I got your phone call, Uncle Rick. Is everything okay?” I set a soft case I’d been carrying on the floor.
Uncle Rick laughed as he said, “I’m great. They can’t find a thing wrong with me, but they won’t let me leave.”
“Well, you were gone for almost a year…” I started to say.
“That’s what they keep telling me,” interrupted my uncle. “They want to know why I ain’t dead. They keep asking where I’ve been these past eleven months since if I was just wandering around in that area, one of our guys or a Taliban should have found me.” He frowned.
Leaning back in my chair, I asked, “Well, do you remember anything?”
He snorted. “I remember plenty! I just can’t tell them. That’s why I sent for you, Marty. I want you to document what I’m going to tell you. If you need to take a piss, this is a good time to do so because this will take a while.”
I looked at him incredulously and said, “You can tell me, but you can’t tell the hospital or the military?”
He shook his head and said, “No, they’d just think I was crazy and have me locked up. But this needs to be documented. Just promise me you won’t have me locked up after I tell you.”
I had to laugh at his comment and said, “I promise, Uncle Rick. Scout’s honor.” I held up my hand in the Boy Scout salute.
He looked around the room and asked, “Did you bring something to write on?”
I bent over and picked up the laptop computer I’d brought with me. I set it on the table besides the chair and said, “Well, I have this.”
Shrugging, he said, “Well, I guess that’ll do. Settle back, relax and please don’t think I’m crazy.”
I poised my fingers over the small keyboard and said, “Okay. I have the word processor up and ready. Shoot.”
“LZ is hot. Repeat, LZ is hot!”
“Roger that,” the voice over the radio said.
Bullets ricocheted off the rocks above my head, sending a shower of rocks and dirt down on us where I and my patrol were hunkered down under a ridge. Below us was a straight drop down into a deep ravine. Taliban fighters were slowly making their way down the ridge towards us. In just a matter of minutes, they’ll be on top of the ten of us.
The voice of the radio said, “There’s a patrol two klicks south-west of your position. Can you link up with them? We can extract another half klick south of their position.”
“Captain,” said Sgt. Williams. “Moving south-west will expose our flank for about thirty meters over rough terrain down to the cover of those rocks.”
Into the radio I said, “Roger that. Heading to extraction.”
A couple of bullets zinged on the rocks near our feet.
I called out to my men trying to shift for new cover. “Listen up. We’re in a world of shit, gentlemen. Taliban forces are closing and are about to box us in. Because of RPGs there’s no extraction here. We’re going to link up with a patrol two klicks south-west. Those rocks to the south should cover our asses while we get off this ridge. Corporal, any ammo left for that M-32?”
“Five rounds, Captain,” said Corporal Jennings with a grim look on his dirt and sweat streaked face.
“Good. On my mark, I want you to fire on the top of the ridge. First we’ll throw smoke up there and then corporal, you keep them occupied. After the last grenade is launched, we’re going to run like a son of a bitch over to those rocks. Corporal Jennings and I, after he has fired his last grenade, will provide covering fire until you’re halfway to the rocks. First man to the rocks, provide covering fire for us as we follow.”
The men glanced around to each other, and to me, and then they scanned the top of the ridge. In all honesty, I didn’t think we’d make it. But we were definitely going to be dead if we stayed.
“Ready smoke. “ I paused a few moments. A bullet dug into the dirt right by my boot. “Now!” In a few moments, the top of the ridge was obscured by a cloud of billowing smoke. Another few moments passed, and then Jennings fired the last of his grenades over the top of the ridge. I shouted “Go! Go! Go!” I started firing bursts into the smoke, along with Jennings as my squad scrambled down the rocky hill towards the cover of an outcropping of rocks.
As soon as the last man was about halfway down the hill, I motioned for Corporal Jennings to go. I fired a few more bursts and then ran like hell down the hill, trying to maintain my footing on the loose rocks. As I reached the halfway point to the cover of the rocks, all hell broke loose as the enemy finally spotted what we were doing and opened up on us.
Bullets were hitting all around. I saw Jennings take a hit in his arm, but he didn’t slow down. It was difficult to maintain my footing while running downhill on loose rocks. The rest of the squad had found cover in the jumble of rocks I was running for, and were returning fire. I was less than ten meters from the rocks when my foot twisted on a sliding rock causing me to lose my balance. A bullet grazed my helmet which was enough to send me sailing head long down the sliding rocks to the edge of the ravine. I could hear the sound of bullets ripping the ground behind me. There was nothing to grab a hold of to stop my sliding and over the edge of the ravine I went.
I hit several branches growing out of the side of the ravine before crunching on the rocks below and I blacked out.
I don’t think I was unconscious for very long, but I could no longer hear any gunfire. I pulled myself to my feet. I was sore, but nothing seemed broken. I checked my surroundings. The bottom of the ravine was very narrow with the floor a jumble of large rocks. I had to move as I was sure the Taliban was scouring the area. I started moving down the ravine in a direction that would take me in the general direction of the extraction point, even though I was sure that no one would be waiting there for me. I was cut off from all help.
I followed the ravine for an hour or so, stumbling over rocks along the way. Finally, the top of the ravine began to inch down and I knew I’d soon be able to get out of it. The past half hour, I was in deepening shadow as the sun was getting low in the sky.
I finally climbed out of the ravine into a broad, dry valley and did a quick look around for any hostiles. The sun was just going behind a mountain. I scanned the area for landmarks and pulled out my map. This was bad. It was at least twenty klicks back to the FOB through very rugged terrain, possibly surrounded by hostiles. I did a quick inventory of my equipment. I had two mags left, my pistol and a candy bar.
The mountain blocking the sun looked to be only a twenty minute hike. I needed to find some place to hole up to rest and wait for complete darkness. I was sure they’d send a helo out in the morning to look for me, but I couldn’t stay here. There was a friendly village where we kept a small garrison about mid-way to the FOB. Unless I encountered hostiles, I was sure I could find my way there in the darkness. I folded my map and sprinted off toward the mountain.
The light was fading fast as I approached the mountain. Finding my way over the rocky hills and through the gullies along the way took longer that I originally thought. With its ridges and boulders, crossing along the face of the mountain should be fairly easy. I’d noticed the caves as I approached. The Taliban liked caves.
I crept along a ridge that had openings to several caves. I looked for footprints or other signs of recent activity. I kept trying to decide if it was riskier to hole up in a cave over night or just keep moving.
As I was thinking, a rock suddenly shattered a foot in front of me followed a few seconds later by the report of the rifle. Shit! I lay as flat as I could. On the ridge I was almost completely exposed. I could hear shouts coming from a short distance. I couldn’t stay here.
I jumped up and ran quickly for the nearest cave. It was too shallow and didn’t offer any cover. A bullet struck the rocks right over my head. Sucking in a deep breath, I ran from the cave and down the ridge looking for cover. I saw hostiles converging on my right, with an occasional shot at me. There was a rock slide that gave me a ramp up to the next ridge around the mountain. If I hugged the side of the mountain, the ridge would offer at least some protection.
I suddenly stopped in my tracks. In what light remained, I could see a dozen or so men climbing up the mountain. I had hostiles in front, approaching from behind and directly below me. The side of the mountain was too steep to climb.
I fired several bursts at the men in front of me and heard the satisfying sound of the bullets hitting their mark. I was still outnumbered and the distance between me and the hostiles was closing fast. A black yawning entrance of a cave was a short distance from me. I hoped it was a deep cave that I could hide in or at least defend.
I ran inside the cave, bullets popping around me. The cave was really deep. I ran into the blackness, tripping over rocks strewn on the cave floor. The cave curved and for the moment, offered some protection. In the dark, I suddenly bumped into a large object that rattled and covered me with dust. I risked turning on my flashlight and in the red glow, I was surprised to see a mummified body hanging by a chain from the ceiling of the cave.
There was also a very old wooden table with odd objects on it. There were other things I couldn’t identify on the cave floor. The light also showed me I was at the end of the cave. I flicked off my light and made my way slowly back towards the cave entrance.
I crouched down and peered down the cave. I could see shadows at the entrance, but no one was entering. In fact, they appeared to be having quite an animated discussion. I gripped my weapon and sweat trickled into my eyes. I braced myself and raised my weapon as a few men started to enter the cave.
As soon as they got a few feet inside the cave, a breeze suddenly came up behind me followed by the most horrible groaning sound I’ve ever heard. The men who had entered the cave dropped their weapons and ran screaming out of the cave. I was terrified as I had no idea what was behind me. I tried to turn around, but found myself frozen. I couldn’t move! The groaning continued and got louder. I wanted to run but it was if I had turned to stone.
The sound faded and the breezed stopped as suddenly as it had started. But I still couldn’t move a muscle. I strained and strained and then, with a metallic ping, like an iron bar snapping in two, I found myself stumbling to a standing position. It only took a moment to realize that I could feel the sand and small rocks under my feet. I looked down and in the dim light saw that I was naked. Out loud, I said, “What the fuck?”
I turned around and saw a figure in the darkness. Taking a defensive posture, I said to the figure, “Who are you?” There was no response. The figure also didn’t move. I took a step closer. In the dim light, I was suddenly horrified to see that the figure was me, frozen in my last position. I started to reach out, but couldn’t bring myself to touch…well, myself. I had to get out of the cave and into some air. This just wasn’t happening.
I stumbled to the cave entrance. I peered out. All the hostiles were gone. I was alone. I stepped out of the cave into the cool night air. The sky was filled with stars. A bright red one attracted my attention. I looked up at it and noticed it didn’t twinkle, suggesting it was a planet. A red planet. It must be Mars.
There was a metallic snap and the Afghanistan mountain range was gone.
I slammed hard enough against the ground to see stars. For what seemed several minutes, as I waited to regain my breath, I laid on what felt like deep grass. Slowly I opened my eyes, still feeling a little dizzy. Stretching before me was a long wide meadow of tall grass and rolling hills. I blinked a few times trying to clear my vision. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. The grass was red.
I lifted myself up on my elbows and looked around. Every direction was a sea of scarlet. In the near distance, was a low mountain range. There were few trees or bushes dotting the landscape. The air smelled different. I rose up on my knees and with one leg pushed myself to a standing position. I was suddenly disoriented, my arms flaying around as I found myself inexplicably rising several feet into the air.
With a thump, I landed on my back, knocking the air out of me. Aloud, I said, “What the fuck is going on? Just where the hell am I?” This definitely wasn’t Afghanistan and no, Toto, it wasn’t Kansas either.
Going more slowly, I finally stood. I felt slightly buoyant. I studied my surroundings more closely and noticed that the horizon seemed closer than it should. Glancing up into the sky, the sun seemed weaker, smaller than it should in a copper colored sky. And then I also realized that I was standing on the thick red grass stark naked. My light skin against the dark red of the grass would make me visible for miles. I needed to get someplace where I was less exposed.
I looked towards the low mountains and decided the foot hills would be a good place to hide. I had no idea what threats may be around me. Food, water, shelter and defense were my priorities and standing in a field of red grass, buck naked before God and everyone wasn’t supplying me with any of these.
I started to jog towards the mountains and my first step sent me flying headlong again to tumble face-first into the ground. The gravity was all wrong. My muscles seemed to be too powerful. How the hell can gravity change? I kept fighting the only explanation that kept popping up in my mind. There was no way I could be on another planet. It’s just flat impossible to teleport to a different planet.
Managing with a kind of running hop, I found that I could quickly cross the distance. What should have taken me at least an hour, only took about fifteen minutes. I wasn’t even breathing hard. I walked along the foothills for quite some time. I was beginning to feel that I was completely alone as I saw no sign of habitation, any animals, not even a bird. Suddenly, I heard some strange sounds, just on the other side of the hill I was approaching.
I crept up to the top of the hill and peeked over. What I saw made my jaw drop and I almost let out a yell. Either I was delirious, or I really was on an alien planet. Moored to the ground was for all appearances was a giant floating boat with what had to be mounted weapons, but nothing like I had ever seen. A single, low mast with pennants flying was mounted near what I took to be the front. In the back were two rear-ward facing propellers, one attached to each side. I couldn’t tell what kept the craft suspended in the air.
On the ground near the airship stood several dozen men wearing a strange leather harness with a tunic. They wore swords at their sides. Their skin had a reddish hue. Two men in particular caught my attention.
I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It sounded like no language I was familiar with. The two men appeared to be arguing. One, who had an air of authority to him, gestured wildly, and pointed an accusing finger at the other who suddenly looked like he was pleading. In a sudden, swift movement, the one yelling pulled his sword from his belt and with a mighty swing removed the other man’s head.
Silence fell on the group as the man with the sword wiped his blade on the body of the fallen one. Pointing with the tip of his sword he said something, and then walked up the ramp to the strange flying boat as he replaced his sword in his belt. The rest of the men silently walked up the ramp a few moments later. The rear propellers spun up and the large craft slowly pulled away as it lifted higher into the air.
After the craft got far enough away where I was sure I wouldn’t be spotted, I made my way down the rocky hill to where the headless body lay. In the near distance, I could see the hills and red grasses give way to a large shallow depression that seemed to be covered with a yellowish moss.
I approached the body slowly, but without hesitation. I’d seen so many gruesome sights lately, I felt almost nonchalant about this headless body. I knelt down beside it to get a closer look. His sword had been taken, but he appeared to be lying on a large knife. I started to roll him over to get the knife and found I lifted him with ease. I took the knife and set the body back down.
He wore a leather harness and belt and a bloodstained tunic. Where the head had been severed was surgical. I’ve never seen a cut so clean. A quick look over the body revealed a mostly human anatomy. The reddish tint of the skin and the jet black hair was the most striking feature of the poor sole I was examining.
Suddenly, I heard a rustling sound behind the rock where the dead man’s head lay. I froze and brought my newly acquired knife to the ready. I hadn’t seen any large animal life so far and I really wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Almost faster than my eyes could follow a large animal head, crowned with a mane like a lion with multiple rows of teeth snapped up the dead man’s head and swallowed it with a sickening crunch.
A moment later, the beast exposed its full body to me. Toto, this definitely wasn’t Kansas. Except for the head, the large animal was hairless and stood on ten legs. It turned its large green eyes towards me and growled angrily, its mouth splitting its head from ear to ear exposing rows of sharp teeth.
I held up the knife as I started to slowly move backwards. The knife was sorely inadequate against this snarling monster. I rose to a slightly crouched position and took another step backwards. “Nice kitty…”
I said as the animal took a step closer. From the way its muscles were tensing, I could tell it was getting ready to pounce, its eyes fixed on me.
Trying not to make any sudden moves, still crouched, I slowly started to back away. I looked down at the feeble looking weapon I held in my hand. I felt that if I tried to use it against the beast, I would only manage to piss it off. The creature just stood motionless as I continued to back away. Its eyes never moved from me.
Suddenly, with a deafening roar, the creature leaped towards me. I instinctively pushed up with my legs to regain my feet. But I had forgotten the effect of my Earthly muscles on the lighter gravity of this alien world and I propelled myself into the air. I flew backwards into some very sharp, rather hard rocks. My naked body was sliced in several places from the rocks.
I looked down at the beast and shouted, “Hah! I won!” I waved my puny knife at it. Then it leaped, clearing the distance in one bound. I struck it with the knife and it turned its head and yelped in pain. My Earth muscles once again giving me herculean strength and great speed. I leaped to another ledge and the animal tried to follow. Its paws slipped from the ledge and it fell a good fifteen feet to the rocks below.
It got back up on its ten feet, and it howled horribly in anger, pain and frustration. It paced back and forth, never taking its eyes from me. I needed to get to higher ground so I turned my back to it and tried to scramble up the jumble of rocks that made up the low foot hills that I could now see rimmed the huge, yellow-moss covered depression.
I was looking at the shallow depression, thinking it may have been an ancient sea bed when my foot slipped on the loose gravel. I fell to my knees, scraping my leg on the sharp rocks. My feet were already bleeding from the numerous cuts from walking on the rocks. The beast growled and with a speed I couldn’t even imagine, it came bounding up the rocks towards me.
Just as it closed on me, I took a wild leap that catapulted me backwards. I sailed through the air to land on my back against the harsh rocks, my head snapping back into them. I was momentarily dazed. When I looked up, it was the most frightening image I have ever witnessed. The beast stood over me, its hot drool dripping onto my skin. Its nauseating, carnivore breath assaulted my nostrils as bad as its roar assaulted my ears. And faster than my eye could follow, it lunged.
I screamed in pain as its powerful jaws clamped around my mid-section, spraying my blood everywhere. I uselessly tried to pull myself away from those tearing rows of teeth, but I couldn’t. With another savage snap of its jaws and a twist of its head, my left leg was ripped from my body. I could hear my leg bones snap as it devoured my leg in just a few bites. My intestines had been caught in the monster’s teeth and pulled from my body.
I was beyond pain and gripped in terror. Seeing my entrails lying on the rocks and my torso bleeding profusely, I knew it would all be over soon. To think my Martian adventure, if that is indeed where I was, would end in such a way.
The beast’s head turned toward me again to complete the kill when he suddenly stopped, a strange sound in the air, and a flash of heat. The animal’s eyes went wild for a moment before his body dropped lifeless on what was left of my broken body. I don’t know what happened, but the creature died too late to save me.
I lay there, clinging desperately to every last moment of life, even though I knew it was useless to do so. A shadow crossed the dead body of the monster that had for all practical purposes, killed me. I looked up and saw a balding, skinny man with the same reddish skin of the other men I had seen earlier. He wore a leather harness and a silk robe. A sword dangled from his belt. He also wore ridiculously thick glasses. In his hand was something that resembled a Buck Rogers style ray gun. It was apparent he had killed the beast.
He knelt beside me and did a quick examination, shaking his head and mumbling to himself. He looked at me and said something in the same strange language the other men had spoken. He frowned, looked over his shoulder and lifted a whistle he wore around his neck and blew it. He looked back at me and said something else. Then everything went dark.
I was aware of sound, muffled and distant at first. Slowly I was aware of other things going on around me. It felt like I was laying on a cold, hard surface. I heard voices, strange and alien. I couldn’t move and I felt hands on my arms. Light began to trickle in through my closed lids. None of this made any sense as I knew I was just not merely dead, but most sincerely dead. Can you know you’re dead?
I was vaguely aware of something being removed from my arms and my vision began to clear. The strange little man with the Coke bottle lenses leaned over me and said something I couldn’t understand. He frowned when I didn’t respond. He tapped my face a few times which was annoying. I frowned back at him and he gave me a crooked smile. He barked a few commands to someone I couldn’t see and then I felt some hands under my back help me to a sitting position.
As the numbness drained from my body, I started to notice several things wrong. One was an annoying shifting weight on my chest. The other was long strands of black hair falling across my face. My color perception seemed different somehow. And the most glaring was that I could feel my hand resting on my leg. The leg that served as that monster’s lunch.
I lifted my hand and a sudden chill shot down my spine. The hand wasn’t mine. I saw a slender, delicate arm with reddish skin ending in a small hand with long, womanly fingers.
“What the hell?” I almost shouted. I froze. I heard my words, but the voice was female.
The bald guy with the comical glasses came up to me and examined me up and down and seemed satisfied with what he saw. He said a few more words in that strange language. I looked around the room and saw what appeared to me to props from a 1930’s Science Fiction movie. There were several rows of slab-like tables, some electronic equipment that looked like an old version of futuristic gadgets.
I then looked down at me and almost fainted. I stood up in disbelief as I saw breasts hanging from my naked, female body. My skin was the same reddish tone as the bald guy and girls that looked like slaves but could be assistants. It took every effort of will power to move my hand between my legs, verifying what I feared. I was somehow, inconceivably inside a native woman’s body. I thought, this is extremely bizarre. Why would I dream this just before dying? I poked my arm with a long finger nail. It hurt.
A feeling of deep anguish washed over me. My body is gone and has been replaced by that of a woman! Nothing against women, but I’m not a woman and to suddenly find myself female horrified me. How could this be? I was glad to not be dead, but there’s no way I could be a girl. I’m sure the little bald bug-eyed man had something to do with it.
“What the hell have you done to me!” I screamed in a shrill, female voice. “How could I be a woman?”
The bald guy’s hand went to the hilt of his sword that was always hanging from his belt. His servants all looked shocked at my outburst and backed away.
He scowled at me and then in angry tones yelled at me in his strange language. I couldn’t understand him nor could he understand me. I suddenly felt defeated.
The bald guy relaxed slightly and indicated with a gesture that I follow him. I took a few unsteady steps at first, and then fell in behind him. I tried a little jump and felt a huge loss that I no longer had my super human strength. I still couldn’t grasp what was going on. It was hard enough to swallow that I might be on an alien planet without the benefit of a space ship and now added on top of that, to be in an alien female body was just too much to deal with.
We walked through several rooms set up much like the one I woke up in. Tables, gadgets, cables and various equipment that defied any attempt to figure out their purpose. The rooms, while finished with smooth walls, floors, etc. seemed to have been carved out of the solid rock of the mountain.
I followed my host or possibly captor down a ramp to a hallway where other red skinned men and women went about various tasks. He led me to a room, smaller than the others, but with chairs and things that looked like toys. My host indicated that I sit and an obvious gesture that I stay put. He then turned and left me alone.
I sat there alone, pondering my fate. Finding myself as a naked girl on an alien planet, that I finally decided was Mars, was something I just couldn’t accept.
After a long wait, my host returned with several naked girls. Two were carrying a tray of food and drink. The third just stood there and regarded me as something inferior that she was being forced to be near. The smell of the food made me realized just how hungry I was. I couldn’t really identify what exactly was on the tray, but I figured it was safe to eat. After all, he went to all the trouble to turn me into a girl, I doubt he’d just poison me.
Baldy gestured to the two girls who had set the trays of food down that they should leave. The third girl he conversed at great length. At one point, she said something in a nasty tone and he slapped her hard, and then yelled at her. She shrank back and abruptly seemed apologetic. He then turned smartly on his heel and left the room.
The girl just stood there and glared at me so I decided I’d ignore her and sat on the fur covered floor beside the food and start eating. I have no idea what I was eating, but it was quite good and yes, it tasted a bit like chicken.
After I had eaten my fill, the girl who had been waiting all that time walked over and lowered herself to a sitting position, legs folded. She snapped her fingers and uttered something I didn’t understand. She pointed to herself and said, “Meela.” She repeated this several times to make sure I understood her name was Meela. She then raised both arms up in an encompassing gesture and smiling said, “Barsoom.”
I wasn’t prepared for what she did next. She pointed at me and frowning, said, “Earth.” How in hell did she know I was from Earth?
I nodded at her and then pointed at myself and said, “Rick.”
She laughed and pointed at me and said, “Rick!” followed by something and then she repeated “Earth. Earth. Jasoom! Jasoom.” It dawn on me that Jasoom was their word for the Earth.
This seemed to be a historic moment, at least to me, so I stupidly said, “Take me to your leader.” She cocked her head to one side and looked at me as if I was from another planet.
And so began my lessons on the Martian language. Several times a day for what seemed the next three or four weeks, Meela would come by to teach me more about how to speak and to a smaller extent how to read the written language of Baldy’s nation. Oddly, all of Barsoom, what the Martians called their world, spoke a common language. But the written language was different for each nation. I learned that the name of my captor/host was Ravis Hankar and was, in his words, a brilliant scientist, the grandson of Barsoom’s mastermind, Ras Thavas. I was not allowed to leave the room, except for a tour of the facility.
The tour both fascinated and disgusted me. What had happened to me was mild in comparison to other experiments of Ravis Hankar. Locked in cages were poor creatures where he had transplanted the brains of men into some of the fauna of Barsoom and vice versa. It was disturbing to see the results of swapping the brains of one of the great apes of Barsoom and a man. And equally disturbing were the rooms where row upon row of “dead” bodies lay on the stone tables with hoses pushing some kind preserving fluid into them.
Meela and I had finished our mid-day meal and were about to start a new lesson when Ravis Hankar poked his head in the room and said, “Come with me.”
We walked down a long corridor in silence for a minute or two. As we turned at an intersection and started up a ramp, Ravis Hankar said, “You are now sufficiently capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation with me, according to Meela. I know you are from Jasoom. I was observing a person known as Faris, as it made me nervous to have such evil at my doorstep. Imagine my surprise to see a man resembling the legendary John Carter also observing Faris.”
We passed through several open iron gates and finally exited to a platform cut from the rocks of the mountain. A breath-taking view of what had been described to me as a “dead sea bottom.” Near the edge of the dead sea, far off on the horizon, were the ruins of an ancient dead city. A few wispy clouds floated in the copper sky over the reddish grasslands stretching before us. It was hostile, barren and beautiful at the same time.
Ravis Hankar continued, “Faris has risen to be the Jed of Phundahl and has shown himself to be an evil and ruthless man. My nation, Toonol, is always at war with Phundahl, and things have only gotten worse. I moved my facilities to this mountain to avoid the war and politics. The wealthy come from all over Barsoom for the services I offer so I try to appear to remain neutral. “
I turned my eyes from the vista below me to face Ravis Hankar. I said, “Sounds cowardly to me. You should support your nation.”
Meela’s mouth opened in surprise. Ravis Hankar slapped me with an open palm. “You will not talk to me that way, girl. I consider it to be pragmatic as I do not care who wins in these wars. Only that I be left alone to pursue my work.”
He walked up to the railing and looked out at the Barsoomian panorama below. His back to me he said, “I could tell you were a fighting man. A warrior from the courage you displayed facing the banth that was intent on killing you. I have no doubt that had you not been so new to Barsoom, you could have killed that beast, using your superior strength and agility.” He turned to face me and said, “A strength and agility you no longer possess.
“And, as I said, I try to appear neutral. This is where you fit in, girl,” he said as he returned his gaze to the ancient dead sea bottom.
“What do you mean?” I asked viciously. “What do you expect of me?”
Ravis Hankar turned slowly to face me, an arrogant smile spreading across his face. “You, Rick, warrior of Earth are going to bring an end to Faris’ reign of terror.”
We stood there for a moment, just facing each other. Finally, I said, “What the hell are you talking about? Are…are you saying you want me to do what? Assassinate this Faris guy?”
Ravis Hankar shrugged and said quietly, “In a nutshell, yes. That body you inhabit is no accident.”
My eyes narrowed and I took a step towards him. He placed a hand on the hilt of his ever present sword. “What do you mean by that?” I asked, hostility obvious in my voice.
Ravis Hankar laughed. Which is something he really shouldn’t do as it sounds terrible. “Are you really that stupid, Rick? You’ve seen my facility here. You know what I can do. You know that I have rooms of young, strong bodies of both males and females that I buy from all over Barsoom so that those that can afford it can live past mortal wounds or just past their allotted time. I could just as easily given you a male body. Or none at all.”
“You saved my life and I am grateful. And to be honest, I don’t know why you did. But why the body of a woman? As a man, I could repay you by becoming your protector,” I said, my anger evaporating.
“Rick of Earth, you will repay me in another way. You will bring about the fall of the cruelest regime ever to grip Phundahl and possibly even bring peace between Toonol and Phundahl. Some of my best customers came from Phundahl. This war has really hurt business.”
“I…I don’t see how! I don’t care what happens on Barsoom. I’m not of this world. I’m a tourist!” I said defiantly. “What if I refuse to help you?”
Frowning, Ravis Hankar said, “If you refuse me, I’ll put your brain in a silian and release you in the Toonolian Marshes. I don’t think you’ll last long.”
I had no idea what a silian was, but it didn’t sound pleasant. I said, “How can I assassinate this Faris of Phundahl? And what do I get out it by doing this deed? I am only a girl, after all.”
Smiling, Ravis Hankar said, “If you succeed, I will find a body suitable for a warrior. But to your last point. Yes. You are a girl. But you are no ordinary, yet beautiful girl. You are the Princess of Toonol.”
I said, “Who?”
Meela shouted with anguish, “Master! No! You must not use the body of the princess! If the Jed discovers your treachery, he will kill us all!”
Ravis Hankar struck Meela hard, sending her sprawling backwards against the rocks. “Silence, slave! I do not take counsel from slaves!”
I looked down at my naked female form and said, “I’m a princess? Oh my God, you have to be shitting me.”
Ravis Hankar looked at Meela with disgust before turning to me and said, “I do not know what that means, but no, I am not shitting you. You are now Princess Vargas of Toonol. Faris had had her kidnapped just days before you arrived on Barsoom. She apparently managed to escape in a small flyer which was damaged from a hit from Faris’ men and crashed near these mountains. She suffered a brain injury and died, but I got to her body in time and was able to preserve it.
“When I saw you watching Faris, I thought if I could reach you and win your fidelity, your kinship to the legends of John Carter and Vad Varo would help defeat the corrupt forces of Faris. But when I saw you torn apart by the banth, another idea materialized in my head. If I return the princess to Faris, I gain his favor and he brings me gold and leaves me alone. You then kill Faris at an opportune time, and I win favor with the Jed of Toonol and I get gold and left alone.”
“I think you’re crazy, Ravis Hankar,” I said flatly. “Don’t you think this Jed person will be upset that his daughter is dead and that an Earthman is now wearing her body?”
Ravis Hankar waved his hand dismissively. “Details. Merely details. I did not kill his daughter. I preserved her beauty. I was serious when I said if you complete your assignment, I will give you a warrior’s body if you do not wish to remain the princess, which would be a pretty easy life, I would imagine. I could always put Meela’s brain in the princess’ body.”
Looking horrified, Meela said, “Please Master! Do not do that! You promised, Master. You promised my father.”
“Silence slave!” yelled Ravis Hankar viscously. “I’ll put your brain in the body of a rykor if I can find a place for it.” Turning to me again, he said, “You really have no choice. Faris will be here within the Zode.”
Meela kept me company in the room I have lived in for the past few weeks. She helped me put on the dainty, jeweled leather harness Princess Vargas had been wearing and applied the cosmetics as she wore them. I found being attended to in such a manner as well as what I had to wear more distasteful than the mission Ravis Hankar was expecting me to do.
To take my mind off of my situation, I said to Meela, “I gather from what you said outside that you are more than just a slave of Ravis Hankar. How did you come here?”
Meela smiled weakly and said, “I am not worthy of your concern Princess Vargas.”
Scowling, I said, “I’m not the damned princess! If you don’t want to tell me, fine. But you’re not my servant.”
“But princess! I am your servant. Ravis Hankar told me that I am now your slave, your servant. I’m to help you pass yourself off, if I can be so open, Princess Vargas.”
I softened a little and said, “So tell me, Meela. Who are you?”
Meela looked at the floor for a few moments before raising her head and said, “I am the Prince of Toonol, princess. I am Bar-nay, son of the Jar of Toonol. I…I…in a foolish moment, I sought to betray my father. For punishment, my father gave me to Ravis Hankar to put me in a weak, female body as his slave. I must remain such until my father feels that I have been punished enough.”
My mouth hung stupidly open for a minute. Holy crap! Meela is the brother of the body I now inhabited. This was getting complicated. To Meela, I said, “Oh, that’s awful, Meela. It would have been more merciful to have had you put to death. How long have you been this way?”
Meela shrugged and said, “Five or six years, princess. I have forgotten what it is like to be male. I have become…content, princess. I can’t imagine being anything else now. And, I thought I was only trying to help my father, not betray him. But that is not the way it worked out.”
Meela spent the remaining time explaining how I should act and a very quick rundown of the political situation in order to pull off being a princess. I don’t know about Earth princesses, but Martian princesses are real little bitches. I was going to say something when I heard the scuffle of feet approaching. It had to be Faris and his men coming to retrieve me. I started to feel sick in my stomach. Meela made a gesture for me to be quiet.
A moment later, Ravis Hankar along with six other men noisily entered the room. “There she is, Faris. Safe and sound, just like I said.” Ravis Hankar nodded at me.
The man that I saw slay that other guy on my first day on Barsoom stepped forward towards me wearing a grin that made me cringe. “Indeed she is, Ravis Hankar. Indeed she is. I am surprised though as this is an act of treason against your own nation.”
Ravis Hankar waved his hand in the air and said, “Bah! Politics means nothing to me. Trust me, there’s little love lost between the Jed of Toonol and me.”
“You must be rewarded.” Faris nodded his head at one of the men with him and he tossed a leather bag at Ravis Hankar’s feet. Faris continued, “I’m sure you will find the gold coins in that bag sufficient. And perhaps I’ll have a job or two for you in the future!” He gripped Ravis Hankar’s shoulder with a strong grip and Ravis Hankar returned the gesture, but not with as strong a grip.
Faris then turned his attention to me. He said, “Come, my Princess. Once we are wed, the Jed of Toonol will have to join his nation with Phundahl and I will declare myself Jeddak!”
I took a defiant pose with my little chin lifted up and folding my arms and with venom in my voice said, “I will never marry an ulsio like you, Faris. I would rather kill myself than have you touch me!”
Looking evilly amused, Faris calmly said, “After I am Jeddak, I’m sure something could be arranged.” He signaled the men behind him and said, “Bind her and lock her in her quarters on the Votak.” I learned later that the Votak is heavily armed cruiser style flyer in Phundahl’s navy.
The first of Faris’ henchmen to reach for me, in one single motion, I slapped him hard across the face and as I drew my arm back, I grabbed his dagger and stuck him in the ribcage. The man howled in pain and grabbed at his side, blood running through his fingers. A second man grabbed my knife arm and stuck me with his knuckles across my face. Faris drew his sword and ran the man through.
“Nobody strikes the future Jeddarra of Phundahl but me, you fools!” shouted Faris as the man collapsed on the floor in a pool of blood. Faris rushed towards me and I quickly raised my dagger. Before I could bring it down, he grabbed my wrist. His grip was strong and the pain in my wrist made me drop the dagger after a moment of struggle. He roughly jerked my arm behind my back, almost pulling my arm from its socket. A henchman tossed Faris a long strand of leather cord and he quickly bound my hands behind me.
Still behind me, Faris brought his face next to my ear and said, “Now listen carefully my dear little princess, you have two choices. You may walk out with us, or I will be more than happy to tie your feet and drag you over the stones to the Votak. Are you going to walk?”
I thought about it for a moment and decided he probably would drag me across the hard rocks to his ship.
“Smart girl!” snarled Faris. He nodded to the two unwounded or dead men and they each took one of my bound arms and led me out of the room. Meela followed meekly behind us.
To Ravis Hankar, he said as he pointed at the man he’d killed and one that I had severely wounded, “You may have these two worthless guards to use as you see fit, Mastermind!” Ravis Hankar grinned from ear to ear at being called by the same title as his grandfather, Ras Thavas.
I was pushed unceremoniously into a small room aboard Faris’ ship. The guard pushed Meela inside as well, but not quite as hard. To Meela, the guard said, “You may unbind her. But make no attempt to leave this room.”
Meela immediately began the task of untying the knots in the leather cord saying, “That was very brave, princess, to fight against a man as big as Faris! I am sure that even Kor-Var will hear of your bravery!”
I rubbed my wrists as the last of the leather cord fell to the floor. I said, “Who is Kor-Var?”
Meela looked at me like I was stupid and said, “Kor-Var is your betrothed and the prince of Duhor. His father, the Jed of Duhor will soon journey down the River Iss leaving Kor-Var as heir to the throne. You were kidnapped the day before you were to marry.”
I collapsed onto my bed and said with a sigh, “There’s another man that desires me? Are there any more men who claim me, Meela?”
Meela looked worried as I had let some anger flow into my voice. “No princess. There are only two.”
“You’ll let me know if a third one shows up, won’t you Meela?” I said as I closed my eyes.
“Oh yes, princess!” said Meela earnestly.
Moments after closing my eyes, I was asleep.
Faris greeted Meela and me at the cruiser’s berth. He gave me a sickening smile as he said, “Welcome to Phundahl my Princess. Hope you don’t mind, but I took my private flyer to get here a little quicker. I trust you had a pleasant trip?”
Being as haughty as I could muster, lifting my chin I said, “It was terrible. The ship smelled, the crew was rude and my bed was too small.”
Faris grinned and said, “Well, better than I expected! Follow me to your quarters. Guards!”
The guards moved in close and I followed behind Faris through the magnificent splendor that was the palace of Phundahl. As we passed through the great halls, people stopped to watch us go by. I caught some murmured voices saying things like, “She’s beautiful!” and “I’ve never seen such a beauty before!” Even though I was a captive, I found myself straightening my back, smiling and raising my head higher.
The ersite stone used in the floor and graceful columns made the beauty of the palace breath-taking. Tapestries depicting scenes of heroism decorated the walls. Statues, vases, and flowers were everywhere. If forced, I could probably get used to living in a place like this.
Finally we came to ornate double doors with a guard on either side. Faris gestured broadly and said, “These are your rooms my Princess. I’m sure you will hate them. Your personal attendant will join you.”
The guards opened the great doors and Meela and I were ushered inside. As soon as we passed the threshold, the doors closed behind us.
Meela’s eyes were wide as she turned slowly around, gazing at our “room”. In fact, it was more like a wing, than a room. There was a hallway that I could tell terminated at a veranda overlooking the city. Several doors opened from the hallway. We appeared to be standing in a very ornate foyer.
“Isn’t this beautiful, princess?” Meela said with a gasp. “It’s so wonderful to finally be back in a palace after all those dreadful years in Ravis Hankar’s caves. This is even better than the rooms I had when I…” His voice trailed off as he continued, “…when I was a prince.”
I turned around slowly as well, soaking up the luxury and splendor surrounding me. “It is indeed beautiful!” I said, agreeing with Meela. “This beats my tent in Afghanistan all to hell.” Meela gave me a confused look. I said, “Yes, this is so much better than those caves.”
We turned at the sound of footsteps approaching. An elderly man, wearing a simple tunic approached. I gathered he was one of the many slaves that staffed the palace. When he got near he said, “Let me show you to your quarters, Princess Vargas.” He turned to Meela and said, “You are ordered by the master Faris to see to it that the princess is bathed and then dressed in the finest Phundahl harness and silk and to enhance her beauty. You are to see to the princess’ every need. If Faris is not satisfied, you will be beaten or slain.”
Poking my finger into his bony chest, I said, “Hey, listen Pops. If anyone is going to be slaying Meela, it’s me and nobody else. You understand?”
“Your assistant is just another slave, Princess Vargas. She will receive no special privileges. Please follow me. There will be a feast tonight in your honor and you must prepare.” The old slave then turned and began walking away, assuming we would just follow him. I looked at Meela, shrugged and then started following the old man.
The hot bath felt great. Having Meela gently scrubbing my back and washing my hair was total luxury. Bathing in a golden bathtub…priceless.
“This is the life, Meela,” I said as Meela poured warm water over my head. “I could definitely get used to this.”
“Enjoying the life of a Barsoomian princess are you, warrior of Jasoom?” Meela giggled as she poured more warm water over me.
“It most definitely has its perks.” Meela wrapped my hair in a towel as I climbed out of the tub. She then quickly patted me down. She then gently took my hand and led me back to the bedroom.
“I have selected the most beautiful harness for you, princess!” Meela said with a sincere smile. “I have also selected perfumes and powders…everything to take you from being merely gorgeous to the most beautiful princess of all Barsoom!”
As she fussed over everything before getting down to work on me, I said, “Meela, seriously, why aren’t you in this body and at least reclaim your royal status if not your manhood?”
She stopped and looked troubled for a moment. Forcing a smile she said, “No. And there are many reasons. I think it would drive me mad to know I was inside my own sister’s body. It took a while to get used to being a girl, as you well know, but it’s my body now and I’m comfortable in it. You are the warrior. The task of killing Faris should be yours.”
I shook my head. “I heard your sister dispatched four of Faris’ guards before she managed to take the flyer and escape. Given the chance, I suspect your sister could have killed Faris herself.”
Meela smiled and said, “You are probably right.” She looked serious for a moment as she looked me directly in my eyes. “Are you going to kill Faris tonight? How do you plan to do it?”
“That’s something I’m not sure about,” I said, studying the floor. “I kind of got roped into this. I’m a soldier, not a murderer. I attacked Faris in Ravis Hankar’s cave out of self defense. Shoving a shiv into the guy while he’s eating dinner…I don’t know. It just seems to be in bad taste.”
Frowning, Meela said, “You must kill Faris before he marries you. Failing to do so, it is your duty as a Toonolian princess to plunge a dagger into your own heart.”
“That’s kind of drastic, don’t you think?” I asked. “I mean, how hard can being a princess be?”
Meela’s eyes widen as she looked at me incredulously. “Despite your beauty and obvious femininity, you are a mighty warrior in your heart. Would you really want a man to use you, as you would have used a woman for your pleasure back on Jasoom? Besides, this is much bigger than just you getting to bathe regularly. The fate of a nation hangs in the balance. If you marry Faris, you condemn the citizens of Toonol to a life of slavery and cruelty.”
I shrugged and said, “Since you put it that way. But I can’t kill him at dinner. It’ s just too public.”
Music filled the great hall. Dancing girls surrounded each of the dozen tables filled with guests dressed in their finest leather and silks. A never ending supply of food flowed continuously to every table. Colorful banners hung from the beautiful ersite columns. I was overwhelmed by the barbaric splendor of it all.
Faris leaned over to me so he could be heard above the din and said, “I trust this feast meets with your approval, my Princess?”
Even though I knew the stakes and understood that Faris is the enemy, I nodded and honestly said, “It is indeed splendid, Faris. The food, the music…everything is just wonderful.” Pulling from some of the lessons Meela had gone over with me about the geo-political layout of the planet, I added for effect, “I doubt even Helium could hold a better feast.”
Faris smiled, which would be a grimace on anyone else, showing uneven and discolored teeth and said, “I’m glad you are pleased my Princess. This is just the beginning. Tomorrow, our wedding day will be glorious!”
This event was really my first real opportunity to study Faris at length. His uneven teeth, long, unkempt, oily hair and unpleasant breath made me reconsider Meela’s suggestion of plunging a dagger into my heart rather than have this man get physical with me. In all honesty, I couldn’t imagine any woman desiring this man even if all they craved was his power and wealth.
Meela, who was standing behind me throughout the feast to make sure my goblet remained filled with wine and help me figure out how to eat some of the food set before me, leaned in close to my ear and pointed at the table. She said, “Princess Vargas, there’s a knife on the table suitable for taking Faris’ life…” I frowned at her and shooed her away.
I awoke with a start as a large man’s hand clasped over my mouth. Shocked, I tried to sit up, but was held down by powerful arms. I was scared witless as a thousand things ran through my mind. I tried to scream, but the hand held tightly over my mouth.
“Shhh! Relax my Princess,” whispered a clear, deep voice close to my ear. “It is only me, Kor-Var. I’m here to return you to Toonol. I’m going to take my hand away from your mouth. Don’t make a sound.”
As the hand fell away from my mouth, I turned to face Kor-Var, the man Meela’s sister had intended to marry. I had no idea what he looked like, but I gambled he was who he said he was. Still not completely awake, I said, “What? How? I mean, how, what?”
“No time for questions.” Kor-Var said through clenched teeth. “We must hurry. Even now the sky is starting to lighten. Come, my flyer is just outside the veranda.”
I was dragged on my feet out into the hallway and we started heading for the veranda. I pulled back on Kor-Var’s arm and said, “Meela! We can’t leave her here!”
“Who is Meela?” asked Kor-Var. “We have no time to spare!”
I stamped my foot and said, “I’m not leaving without Meela! She’s my personal slave.”
Frowning at the delay, Kor-Var said, “You’ll have dozens of slaves after we marry. Come! We must hurry!”
I managed to pull my hand free and said, “I’m not leaving without her!” I then rushed to the pile of sleeping silks and furs that I put for her at the back of my bedroom. I shook her quickly awake and she rubbed her eyes and said, “With all the drinking you did last night, princess, I can’t believe you are up so early.”
“Meela! Come on! We’re getting the hell out of Dodge!” I said in a loud whisper.
Again she looked at me with a confused look and started say something when I jerked her to her feet and said, “We’re escaping! Kor-Var is rescuing us!”
As I dragged the sleepy girl into the hall, she said, “But you didn’t get to kill Faris!”
“Best laid plans and all that. Hurry!” I almost shouted.
Moments later we arrived at the veranda. On the other side of the railing a small flyer floated on the eight Barsoomian ray. The flyer was obviously built for speed, but had radium guns fore and aft. One of Kor-Var’s men was standing on the veranda, while two others stood in the flyer. Kor-Var and the other man helped Meela aboard the flyer.
As I was about to climb onto the flyer, Kor-Var held me for a moment and stared intently at me. He said, “I thought I had lost you!” He paused and then before I could react, he kissed me hard, and full of passion. I was stunned for a moment, unsure of my feelings. The kiss was electric and I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I had to catch my breath.
I took a good look at Kor-Var. He was everything Faris wasn’t. Tall, very muscular, handsome, dark flowing hair. He smiled with beautiful white teeth. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.
“We must go!” Kor-Var said as he hefted me over the gunwale.
As soon as the last man climbed over the railing and into the flyer, one of Kor-Var’s men hit the controls of the flyer and the twin blades at the rear ramped up to full speed and we moved quickly from the palace. Above us on the palace wall a shout rang out and moments later the alarms sounded. The flyer didn’t move as fast as it could as it was carrying more than the usual number of passengers.
As the palace began to recede behind us, we could see several high speed single seat flyers coming from openings in the walls. In less than a minute, Faris’ men were in hot pursuit. A moment later, a larger, cruiser style flyer emerged from the walls. That had to be Faris himself.
There was a loud crack as a radium projectile deflected off the gunwale of our flyer. Kor-Var pointed at one of his crew and shouted, “Man the aft gun!” The man responded quickly and began returning fire. One of his radium bullets struck amidships one of the small craft pursuing us and the flyer exploded, sending its pilot screaming to the ground far below.
Several of the smaller craft were pulling in close to us, as they could attain greater speed. Radium bullets flew over our heads. Our pilot directed the flyer towards the mountains that lay between Phundahl and the Toonolian Marshes. Faris’ flyers moved in ever closer. Looking over the gunwale, I was horrified to see that Faris’ cruiser was gaining on us.
Suddenly the craft was struck in the side, leaving a large hole, the radium bullet narrowly missing the tanks that contain the eight ray. Moments later, another bullet knocked one of Kor-Var’s men over the gunwale. We were rocked again from an explosion in the rear of the flyer as the aft gun emplacement disintegrated in fire and smoke.
I then saw a shadow pass over the deck. I looked up and two flyers about the size of ours hovered overhead. Keeping low, Kor-Var opened a cabinet by the control stick and pulled out two daggers. He handed one each to Meela and me.
Moments later, four men dropped to the deck of our flyer. One of the attackers swung his sword in a wide arc, removing the head of our pilot. Kor-Var and his remaining two men sprang into action and almost immediately, one of the attackers when flying over the gunwale. The attacker that had killed our pilot took the controls and shut down the engines and we slowed to a halt.
Meela and I stood to one side, our daggers ready and watched in horror as a third member of Kor-Var’s men was struck by a long sword from the top of his head through his shoulder. The last man and Kor-Var backed up to stand between Faris’ men and Meela and me. Suddenly a radium bullet struck the deck right in front of Kor-Var.
“Put down your sword, Kor-Var,” shouted Faris as his cruiser pulled up alongside our floating flyer. “I might let you live.” While Faris was talking, Meela nudged me and showed me where she slid her dagger inside her harness where it was hard to see. I followed her example.
The cruiser and our flyer was at the same level, so it was just a matter of sliding across the gunwale to Faris’ cruiser. Meela, Kor-Var and the remaining warrior managed to be one side of the central mast surrounded by four of Faris’ men. Faris and I and one other guard were on the other side. Faris had a tight grip on my arm.
Faris raised his sword over his head and shouted angrily, “How dare you defile my palace with your presence, Kor-Var! And to steal my bride on our wedding day! You will pay dearly for this affront!”
Anger filling his voice, Kor-Var said, “I seem to remember you stealing my bride on my wedding day, Faris!”
Faris waved his sword dismissively and said, “Details, details.” Still holding his sword, he scratched his chin. “I’m not sure what would hurt you more. Killing you now, knowing that I will have my way with this woman and you can’t do anything about it, or letting you watch our wedding, and then kill you.”
Faris smiled sardonically.
Kor-Var spat on the cruiser’s deck and said, “You’ll never get away with this, Faris!”
Faris laughed heartily. “I already have.” He gestured with his sword again and said, “Kill them.”
As soon as his words left his lips, Meela pulled her dagger from her harness and plunged it deep into the chest of the guard nearest her. The man cried out in pain and dropped his sword. Kor-Var’s warrior lunged for the sword, jumped to his feet and ran the sword through another of Faris’ surprised guards. Now Kor-Var had a weapon!
But Faris’ guards were no longer surprised and began pressing into Kor-Var and the warrior. Meela flashed her dagger at one of the guards.
Scowling, Faris said under his breath, “I don’t have time for this!” He then shoved me back into Kor-Var’s flyer and then jumped in himself. “We have a wedding to go to my Princess!” He stepped quickly to the controls and pushed the twin engines to full speed.
Meela saw us start to leave and shouted, “Princess Vargas!” I then saw one of the guards’ sword slash across her and Meela collapsed on the deck.
“Meela!” I shouted over the roar of the blades. I ran to the back of the flyer. The cruiser was rapidly receding into the distance, but I saw Meela stumble back to her feet and she, the warrior and Kor-Var all stood with their backs to each other, facing the rest of Faris’ men who were surrounding them.
Scowling, turned around to see Faris at the controls of the flyer. He had turned us around to head back to his palace. We were flying back over the mountains towards Phundahl. Hatred rose inside my heart as my eyes bored into the back of Faris’ head. With a primal yell, I lunged with all my weight and rammed my dagger between Faris’ shoulder blades.
Screaming with pain and rage, Faris spun around and struck me hard on the cheek, sending me flying backwards to the deck. The dagger still sticking out of his back, Faris lunged at me and pulled me from the deck. “Oh, you’re going to be beaten for that. Maybe I’ll make you my slave instead of my wife!” He slapped me hard. I then used the only weapon I had left; I raked my fingernails across his face, leaving bloody streaks running down his cheek.
He stumbled back from my clawing him. I looked wildly around for something else to use as a weapon. To my horror, I could tell the flyer was gradually losing altitude and no one was at the controls. There were a couple of the swords that Kor-Var and his warrior had dropped. I ran over to pick one up. I could barely lift the hilt from the deck. Faris laughed at my efforts to lift the sword. With all the fury and strength I could muster, I grabbed the hilt with both hands and managed to swing it up and let it go. It sailed passed Faris, narrowly missing him and then impaled itself into the deck.
Still laughing, Faris pulled the broadsword from the deck. With his back to me, I ran up and pulled my dagger from his back. He moaned loudly with pain and spun quickly around. I stood before him, clutching the dagger in my right hand. I bounced on my legs and tried to keep my arms and legs loose. I said, “Come on, Faris. Show me what you’ve got!”
Faris almost dropped his sword as he just stared at me for a moment. He frowned and said, “You are crazy!”
I danced around him, slashing at him with the dagger. He just stood there ready. Finally he swung at me and I ducked and then cut him with the point of the dagger. He slashed at me again and I caught him in the thigh. The body I was in was in excellent condition, but it was not the body of a warrior and I was tiring. I couldn’t keep this up much longer.
His eyes blazing with rage, Faris lunged at me again, his sword smashing through the polished rear deck of the flyer. I jumped on the rear deck and momentarily lost my footing on the polished surface. The wind blowing past me as the flyer cut through the air made it hard to stand.
Faris jumped onto the rear deck and swung his sword at me again. I had nowhere to go and the wrong step would send me flying over the side of the flyer. I ducked and managed to stop his sword as the blade slammed against the hilt of my dagger. Faris’ foot slipped and I took advantage of his momentary distraction to sweep my leg behind his knee. He lost his footing and fell behind me. As I jumped quickly from the rear deck, the quickly cut off scream and two slapping sounds and a bloody, broken propeller blade slamming into the deck beside me told me that I wouldn’t have to worry about Faris any more.
The flyer, with one engine gone and the other running full tilt, began to spin out of control. The spinning knocked me to the deck. I desperately tried to pull myself across the deck to reach the controls. One of the buttons had to turn the engines off. I grabbed the rudder control and was just pulling myself up when the flyer slammed hard into the mountain side and exploded in a shower of rocks, dirt and flying debris.
I screamed and then there was darkness…
I hit the ground with a jolt, the impact sending up a small cloud of dust. I was dazed and confused for a few moments. I was lying on my stomach and it was dark. I lifted myself up on my elbows and felt stiffness against my skin. I couldn’t see much in the darkness, so I ran my hand down my body and felt a stiff cloth. What the hell is going on, I thought.
As far as I could tell, I was uninjured from the explosion of the flyer, but I did feel a little dizzy. I got up unsteadily to my feet. That’s when I noticed I was wearing boots. I shouted, “No! Oh my God no!” I was back. I was back on Earth! What of Kor-Var and Meela? Were they alive? I couldn’t leave them like this!
Still disoriented, I stumbled out of the cave without any heed of potential threats that could be around me. The bright sunlight hurt my eyes. I continued to shout “No! no, no no!” Some Afghani civilians were passing by below me and ran off when they heard me yelling. I made my way down to what was apparently a road I’d somehow missed before and sat down on a stone shaded by a large overhanging rock.
I must have sat there crying for half an hour. I didn’t even look up when I heard the engine noise of a couple of Humvees pull up. As the doors opened and the men exited, I heard one of them say, “Holy shit, Sarge. It’s a captain. What’s he doing out here alone?”
One of the men walked up to me and said, “Captain…Parker?” I saw him bend over to see my name tag. “Sir, may I ask why you’re out here alone?”
I looked up at the sergeant, tears streaming down my cheeks and said, “I have to go back! I have to help! I have to know what happened…” My voice trailed off.
“Know what happened, sir? Are you alight, sir?” asked the sergeant.
From the direction of the Humvees, a voice called out, “Captain Parker, sarge. He’s been MIA for almost year.”
“Captain, we can’t stay here,” the sergeant said. “There are insurgents all over these hills and you need medical attention. Corporal, help me get him in the Humvee.”
I was just about to finish re-typing my notes my Uncle Rick had narrated to me when my cell phone rang.
“Hello?” I said into the phone as I pressed it against my head.
“Hello, Mr. Parker? This is H. Lloyd Memorial Veteran's Health System,” said the female voice on the other end of the connection. “I’m sorry to inform you Mr. Parker, but Richard Parker can’t be found.”
“You’ve lost my uncle?” I asked incredulously into the phone. “What do you mean he can’t be found?”
“Sir, he was there this morning when he was served his evening meal. When his nurse went in to check on him a few minutes later, his bed was empty. No one saw him leave the room.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes!” I said angrily into the phone. “You better have my uncle before I get there!”
About fifteen minutes of driving found me at the hospital where I’d last seen my uncle. I went to the charge nurse on his room’s floor. The nurse looked at me as I arrived and asked, “May I help you sir? I’m afraid visiting hours are over.”
I leaned across the desk and said, “Have you found my uncle yet?”
The nurse looked embarrassed and said, “You must be Mr. Parker. I’m sorry sir, but we’re still looking for him.”
“Have you notified the police?” The nurse nodded to me. I continued, “I’ll wait a while in his room.”
I entered my Uncle Rick’s room and noticed the blinds were pulled completely open. I stepped up to the window and looked at the view of the city below. I looked upwards and was surprised to notice that there were some stars visible. I looked for one in particular and momentarily I found it. Barely visible through the city lights was the planet Mars.
I looked back at Uncle Rick’s empty bed and then back outside at Mars showing faintly in the sky. I smiled knowing Uncle Rick would have had little trouble leaving undetected. I wondered where he’d gone to so that he would be undisturbed.
Did my uncle find his way back to Mars? Did he return as the beautiful Princess Vargas or is he now a mighty warrior.
I wonder if I’ll ever know…
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