In the far-flung reaches of another universe, far away in the future, where space ships and magic co-exist . . . .

JOHN CARTER OF OUTER SPACE

Shelby Vick

Illustrations by Jerry Burge, adaptation by ShelVy

Photo manip by Rebecca Brayman, alterations by ShelVy


 

My freighter, Martian Made, was in trouble.

–Not that it’s anything new; my ship or me or my crew always seemed to be in trouble, starting when I bought Andy the android.

Why would buying an android bring trouble? Well, he was cheap; that shoulda been a clue for me, but I needed to replace my crew member who had deserted – deserted just because a space tornado nearly ripped us apart, if you will.

So I bought Andy.

In many ways, he was your typical android: Big, a sickly white color, four arms and the second set of arms complimented by eyes in the back of

 

his head, so he could work behind him as well as in front. Almost unlimited memory. So . . . what was wrong?

Andy has a personality!

Yeah, yeah; ‘android’ and ‘personality’ aren’t supposed to go together – but they did with Andy! Not only did he have a personality – he was persnickety, argumentive, and didn’t like to take orders.

Some crewmember, you say? Well, he was cheap. He fed off waste radiation from the Martian Made’s atomic engine. Didn’t sleep. Could handle two jobs at the same time. So he argued – did I ever have a crewmember who didn’t?

I bought him, and – in a manner of speaking – things worked out.


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– But, hey; I’m telling you about a crewmember and not myself! My name is John Carter. Yeah, John Carter. Unlike the Burroughs character, I didn’t go to another planet by mental abilities but by ship. When I named my ship, my first thought was ‘Martian Maid’ but it seemed to obvious – thus the play on words. And out here there is a Barsoom, a planet named by one of the first colonists, a Burroughs fan, of course. I’ve been there. Barsoomians are blue. In a little bit, I’ll tell you about one of my trips there.

The Martian Made is an old freighter I’ve . . . fiddled with. The control room is little more than a glorified closet, with three walls of dials, switches, and wires sticking out everywhere from where I have mixed in instruments I have bartered, bought or – in one case – stolen (altho I prefer to think of it as ‘fruit of victory’. Aside from a large cargo hold, I have shields, a force field, tractor beam and assorted weaponry; out here, with all the pirates, an unarmbed freighter is inviting someone to come along and help themselves.

–And such an invitation always has someone to accept it!

But, back to Andy. Another of his defects surfaced just a few weeks after I bought him. I had detected a ship that was in trouble, not much more than a floating derelict – but my instruments detected a faint sign of life. I moved up to it, not expecting any salvage, but wondering about the life sign. I attached it by tractor beam, got in my two-man lander, and went across.

 

A ten-year-old girl was about to die of suffocation!

Life signs revealed that she was in a closet. I retrieved her. She was a sorry specimen; all arms and legs, skinny neck with a round head atop it, a head covered with a mess of brown hair – but I couldn’t leave her to die.

Back on board the Made, she recovered quickly. I found that her real beauty was in her eyes, green eyes that, I swear, could see into your soul. “You must save my folks!” was the first words she spoke.

“Sorry, honey,” I said. “That ship had more holes in it than Swiss cheese! If you hadn’t been in that closet, you’d be dead, too!”

She cried, and I held her, until –

A strong hand gripped my shoulder. “You leave her alone!” Andy’s voice grated.

By the time we got things straightened out, Andy’s other defect was apparent: He was in love!

Actually, it turned out to be an advantage: Not only did he protect and take care of the girl (her name, it turned out, was Joolee) but he would do absolutely anything she asked. So Joolee, now my ‘niece’, became a ten-year-old co-captain of the Martian Made!


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Me? They say I’m a hero. I guess I’m a hero, of sorts; I mean, I’ve rescued some people, defeated some pirates, and all that – but I don’t feel heroic! In fact, I’m not even sure what ‘heroic’ should feel like. I’ve never buckled on a swash; in fact, I’m not sure what a swash would look like, buckled or otherwise. All I know is, I’m persistent. When I set out to do something, I do it – one way or another. Sometimes with the help of my fiddling around, sometimes by bluffing, sometimes with the help of my crewmembers or a D gun – whatever! The thing is, I get things done – and survive! Out here, that’s an accomplishment to be proud of. Of course, I have an advantage over some adventuring souls: To the best of my knowledge, I have no living relatives to worry about. Now, there’s my crew; I guess they’re my only family. We’re in this together.

Joolee has been with me three years, now. Sadie the Ladie, that pirate, is her idol. One day I am sure she will grow up and outdo Sadie, because she’s persistent, too – and she’ll have the added advantage of Andy at her side. I’ll hate to see Joolee go, but there’s no way she could go without Andy.

Now, let me tell you how I got another member of my crew.

As I said, I have been to Barsoom. There really is a Barsoom. Right now I am piloting a lander toward a Barsoom spaceport.

 

BLUE BUMS OF BARSOOM

This Barsoom isn’t on Mars, it’s in the Cronat galaxy, I was going there to collect an unpaid debt for shipment. Jogrin, the owner of a very successful bar at this particular spaceport, had talked me into taking a load of food delicacies to Lemur, swearing the recipient would pay for shipping.

He didn’t.

Matter of fact, the recipient convinced me to leave the highly-perishable supplies and go collect from Jogrin. So I was on my way.

My trip to the spaceport was interrupted by a call. My viewscreen showed a skinny character with an elephant’s snout for a nose; I knew him. He was B’rak, a Lemurian pirate I had encountered before. Of all Lemurians, he had the biggest nose and the smallest ears. He also had an evil grin on his face, as he said, “It’s my turn to win, now, John Carter! I have your niece, Joolee!”

I grinned at B’rak. “Good!” I said. “I’ve been trying to get rid of her for years! I hope you survive.”


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B’rak’s look of confidence weakened. “But . . . you’ve been taking care of her! She’s been your shipmate for three years!”

“Three very long years,” I agreed. “Wouldn’t have made it that long, if it wasn’t for my force-field. You do have a force-field on your ship, don’t you?” I said that, knowing that he didn’t.

“Force-field?” he asked, losing more confidence. “No. –But,” he added, “I locked her in my security cabin. She won’t be going anywhere!” Just as he said that, Joolee slipped up behind him and slammed a heavy wrench against his head, then grinned at me.

 

Joolee was a freak of nature; her voice had the ability to reach subsonic level and, as most security locks were subsonic, she could escape any of them. She didn’t duplicate the security code; she simply disrupted the entire field.

“Can you handle B’rak’s ship, honey?” I asked, knowing that B’rak had a small, fast one-manner. It wasn’t worth a big wad, but there was a reward on B’rak’s head; between the reward and selling his ship, his capture would be worthwhile.

“Can I chew gum?” she asked. Then she added, grinning. “Maybe I should just dump B’rak out the airlock and start my own pirate business!”

“You gotta grow some more, honey,” I said. “Take B’rak back to the freighter and lock him up. I'll set the ship's grav at forty percent, so you'll have no problem moving B’rak. For that matter," I added, "you can get Andy to help."

He'd do anything for her! In fact, that was the only way I was able to deal with him, any more.

I continued to Joolee: "Now, I’ve gotta go collect a debt.” She cocked her head and gave me a tentative look, appraising the advantages of my suggestion, then nodded. She didn't know how to reset the Martian Made's gravity; the security system wasn't sonic, and (as she hadn't read the Burroughs' Mars books) she'd never guess the password was Dejah Thoris!


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I landed, and went to Jogrin’s.

The Barsoomians were blue. When I entered Jogrin’s bar, there was blue everywhere. Blue bums most of them, sitting at the bar or around tables, drinking or playing poker. The waitresses were something else; in the reverse of the slobbish appearance of the male Barsoomians, the females were attractively built and sexy. Jogrin’s girls wore the typical barmaid attire, a uniform where one piece of material hung from a collar around their necks and, from one shoulder, draped down to cover just one delectable breast, then it was belted at the narrow waist and flared out over curvy hips before it fell almost to their knees.

One of the delectable examples came smiling up to me. “May I help you, sir?”

“Sure can!” I said. “Wanta be a crewmember on my freighter and get away from all these blue bums?”

“Sounds enticing,” she replied, a grin on her lovely lips and fire in her blue eyes. “But I still owe Jogrin another two years of my life. Can I bring you a drink?”

I had spotted Jogrin at a poker table. There was an empty chair. “Sure can,” I said. “Something hot and spicy. I’ll be at Jogrin’s table.” Jogrin looked up at me, recognized me, and a moment’s fear

 

was replaced, after glancing around his bar at all the reinforcements he had, with a leer. “John Carter!” he said. “A pleasure.”

As I sat down I said, “The pleasure will be all mine after you pay me for that last shipment.”

Wearing innocence like a disguise, he said, “That scum didn’t pay you? I’m shocked!”

The blue babe brought me drink and I tipped her. “Knock it off, Jogrin,” I said. “Pay me!”

”Tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “A sporting proposition! I’ll let you join the game without the usual deposit!”

I had expected this, and came prepared. Most spacers were well aware of Jogrin’s cheating ways, poker or business. “I’ll take you up on that,” I said. “Deal me in.”

As I expected, I was allowed to win some small pots. Then came the big one, a game of five-card stud. As the cards were dealt and bets were made, one after another dropped out as the stakes grew higher. I had a pair of aces showing, with a ten-spot my next highest card. Jogrin had ace high, with a king showing when we got to the last card. “Your bet, Carter,” he said.


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”I’ll bet ten thousand,” I said, which was the amount he owed me. “And,” I added, “I’d like to see your money on the table.”

Jogrin assumed a hurt look. “You don’t trust me, Carter? I don’t carry that much one me.”

While his patrons were mostly blue bums, at the same time they were aware of Jogrin’s cheating methods and would appreciate seeing the tables turned on him. Also, they were all males – which led to my strategy.

I nodded at the hovering barmaid. “Her contract will do,” I said. “I’m sure you keep it handy, so you can wave it under her nose.”

Jogrin smiled, not worrying about losing. He looked at the barmaid. “It’s under the bar, in the usual place, Aarla,” he said. “Get it.”

She hurried behind the bar, then came out with the paper and put it on the table. Did I see a gleam of anticipation in her eyes?

In a long-practiced move, I swapped my hole card for my ace while Jogrin watched the girl put the contract down. Then I got to my feet, D-gun in my hand. “All right, Jogrin,” I said. “Let’s see your hole card.

 

There are only four aces in a deck,” I said, showing mine, “and so you’d better not have one!”

There was a cheer from the crowd, and Aarla grinned widely. “B-but, you can’t – I mean, that isn’t –“

”No,” I said. “The sucker isn’t supposed to win, right? Shall I take my winnings and go, or do you want to show me your hole card?”


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”You’re welcome to her!” Jogrin snarled.

I nodded at my chips. “There’s over a thousand there,” I said. “Please cash them in for me.”

I felt sure I could turn Aarla into a helpful crew member – better, at least, than Andy used to be! -- but I feared I’d have a little explaining to do to Joolee!

***

You wanta know how Aarla worked out? Read on!

“Your Baroomian slave is barss-ackwards,” Joolee exclaimed, disgust and contempt on her round face. “She keeps records wrong! She burns food when she cooks! She twist-wired the security system! But you don’t care; all you care about is her boobs!”

Aarla has good boobs, all right, and she sometimes messes up, but things on my freighter, the Martian Made, aren’t laid out in a conventional system – particularly with all the jury-rigging I’ve done to my ship.

“She’s no slave,” I told Joolee. “I won her two-year contract in a poker game. As for as learning the ropes are concerned, she’ll manage.”

 

“If she doesn’t wreck the ship first!” Joolee blazed.

Before she could go on, Aarla’s voice came over the intercom. “Big ship on screen,” she announced. “They’re hailing us!”

Joolee and I were in my quarters. I said, “We’d better finish this later!” and headed for the bridge. On the screen was a familiar face, that of the Lemurian Lao L’If, brother of the recently-deceased pirate B’rak.

“There you are, Carter!” he said, as I walked up, trailed by Joolee.

“Whatcha want, Low-Life?” asked Joolee, purposefully mispronouncing his name. I didn’t bother correcting her. “Vengeance, for one thing, for the death of my brother. Also, I want that purple sex-slave.”

At my motion, Aarla got up and let me take the command seat. “Let me get this straight, Lao,” I said, while a hand he couldn’t see was busy with one of my new ‘improvements’. “You want me to send Aarla to you, and then you’ll blow up my ship?”

A grin on a Lemurian is an amazing thing; it manages to curl up on each side of the snout, while their eyes crinkle. “Neat and complete, Captain!” he said. “Congratulations on your brevity.”

Over my shoulder I said, “Joolee, take Aarla below.”


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“But –“

I looked back over my shoulder at her and, as Low-Life couldn’t see it, winked broadly. “If he’s gonna blow us up, no need for Aarla to die, too. Do as I said.” I caught a quick flash of an understanding grin from her before she managed to hide it. At her distance from the console, there was no chance the Lemurian could have seen it.

“Yes, sir!” Joolee snapped.

I looked back at the Lemurian. “There’s no need to kill us, Lao; take us prisoner, and set up a sideshow. I’m sure there are hundreds of pirates out there who would pay good money to see me locked up.”

I was taking a risk suggesting this but, to my relief, it was met by an immediate shake of his head. “No way, Carter; I’ve heard of your slippery ways and ain’t taking no chances! Send that gal over here, and prepare to die! I can tell,” he added, “that your puny weapons aren’t even powering up! Is that why you’re talking, trying to kill time to get them going?”

 

I shook my head, as I flipped a switch. The Martian Made trembled, and I knew the springs had released my present for the Lemurian. “You’ve got me clean, Lao,” I told the gloating Lemurian. “Aarla is on her way. It’s not a rocket, but something catapulted by springs. Inertia will take her to you, but you’ll hafta stay in place, because the thing has no rockets to control its trip; it’ll just coast to you.” I could tell from a shift in his attention that he had detected the approaching capsule. “Are you familiar with C4, Lao?” I asked.

I got a puzzled look in response. “See four?” he asked. “Ain’t never heard of it.”

That’s what I was hoping for. I had bought a time capsule, unopened and contents unknown, from a so-called salvage expert, and it had been full of the ancient plastic explosive.

“What’s See four?” Lao asked.

“An ancient form of. . .energy,” I said. “I’m sending it along, too, to help Aarla. When you open the container, you’ll see what I mean.” Then I added, “Better use your tractor beam; I’m afraid she’s going to miss you. We wouldn’t want its precious cargo lost in space!”


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He pulled the capsule in, and I pressed another button – putting shields on full as I did so. Good thing I did because, even fully shielded, the Martian Made shook with the force of the explosion.

“Another Lemurian bites the dust!” Joolee said, entering with Aarla just behind her. “I take it back, Uncle John; I take back my teasing about all those gadgets you fool around with!”

Then, despite the Barsoomian’s presence, she said, “Now, back to what I was saying about Aarla. . . .”

 
***

Now, you need background on one other crewmember. It goes like this:

Ahead of us there was a gap in space.

I wondered how there could be a gap in empty space. Sadie the Ladie certainly wouldn’t have stolen it – no profit in empty space! – and I didn’t think Captain Shivers would have blasted the hole; no future in that! Maybe it was something caused by one of the wizards from the Lantern of Lost Worlds. . .whatever, there it was.

We were on our way to deliver a valuable cargo – but it looked like there was gonna be a delay.

Joolee was standing beside me in the control room, running her fingers thru her stringy brown hair. “What in the world is that, Unca John?” she asked, worried. “No stars. . .nothing!”

“Whatever it is, we don’t need to go there,” I said, flipping the intercom. “Andy, full reverse thrust – now!”

“How come?” Andy snapped.


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“Now, Andy,” Joolee barked. “It’s important!”

“Yes ma’am!” Andy said to the object of his affections, and our forward thrusters burst into life. Luckily, Joolee was holding onto my well-attached control seat; the whole ship shook with the blast.

But, aside from shaking the ship, the thrusters were useless. We were still heading for the gap.

“What’s going on?” a shaky voice asked from the control room door. Which, I should admit, was only a few feet behind my chair. The person at the door was Aarla.

“That!” I said, pointing at the viewscreen.

“I don’t see anything!”

“That’s the trouble,” Joolee said. “It’s nothing; a gap in space and we’re heading straight for it!”

“–And,” I added, “there’s nothing we can do about it! . . .Wait a minute; Aarla, go downstairs and launch an empty torpedo. –Not empty,” I quickly added. “Put a comm link it it. We’ll send it in first and see what we can find out.”

 

“Yes sir!” Aarla said, turning quickly and heading below decks.

These days, most ships have instruments that can detect weaponry and tell when the weapons are turned on. My torpedoes were spring-ejected, so there was nothing to detect. They had already saved us once; this time, even if they couldn’t save us, maybe they could give us an idea of what to expect.

We always kept one ready, so it was only seconds before I saw it ahead of us, going to the gap. I turned on the speakers and heard its comm link beeping steadily. Then it entered the gap – and the beeping sped up until it was a continuous buzz. “Computer; how much faster than normal is the signal from that link?”

“Three. . . four . . .five hundred and rising rapidly.”

Joolee gave me a blank look. “What could that mean?”

“Time speeds up in there! A day there could be five hundred days here – right, computer?”

“Over a thousand now, and still rising,” was the immediate response.


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“Then – even if we get out, it’ll be a lot later than it is now!” Joolee said.

“If we get out,” I told her. “I’m afraid our cargo’s gonna be late!” Then we entered the gap.

–And suddenly, where nothing had been before, there was a planet dead ahead of us!

Luckily, the forward thrusters were still going, and we slowed enough to enter the atmosphere without being burnt to a crisp.

It wasn’t an interesting-looking planet; there were a few patches of green, but mostly it consisted of rocky mountains and deep valleys with no sign of civilization. No sign of oceans, altho I did see a few rivers and lakes. Seeing nothing better to do, I put us in low orbit; there was obviously no spaceport. “What’ll we do, Unca John?”

“I want to take a look on the planet. I’ve got the idea that everybody who passes thru the gap finds it first; might be some survivors down there who could give us an idea of what to do.”

“Take Andy! He can help protect you.”

 

“Joolee, you know my landers can’t take but two people. Without you along, Andy would be more a hindrance than a help! No, I’ll go alone; but I’ll be on guard.”

Yeah. That almost comes under the heading of Famous Last Words!

From orbit, I had detected signs of wreckage around one of the larger lakes. Now the question was, did anyone survive? The next question being, of course, if they did survive, could they help us in any way?

I wished I had one of the Federation’s transporter beams. Not having one, I took a comm link and, of course, my D gun.

I circled the lander around the lake, hoping to spot something – and did! An elephant-nosed Lemurian ran out of the woods and jumped up and down and waved at me. He was wearing nothing but ragged pants. I circled once, could spot no sign of any others, and landed on the beach.

The Lemurian ran up to me. “Thank the mages!” he said, as I pushed open the lander’s lid. “I thought I was lost forever.”

“How long have you been here?” I asked.


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“Too long!” he said. “Been living on roots and fresh leaves and what little else I could find. Can you take me back?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know how to get back! Any ideas of your own?”

He sagged in dejection. “No. I was on my way to Minchmont when it happened.”

“Minchmont? Where the Star Wizards live?”

The Lemurian nodded. “I was hoping to work for Hepzibah.”

“You must be a powerful wizard yourself, to even approach Hepzibah!”

“I’m no wizard, but I had the blessings of Casingrim.”

“I’m impressed,” I said. “Not many mortals get even close to Casingrim, much less Hepzibah.”

“I had the Nekromonicon.”

“Last I heard of that was when it burned down Trooper Keith’s bar.”

 

“Trooper Keith? Who is he?”

I remembered the time difference and said, “Never mind. I’ll bet you lost the book.”

The Lemurian nodded. “I did. I was worried sick! Someone knocked me out and took it. I kept on to Minchmont anyway, and ended up here.”

I nodded. “Some kind of spell caused all this. If you’re not a wizard, I don’t see how we’re going to get out.”

A bashful look colored the Lemurian’s face. He coughed slightly, a cough of embarrassment, and said, “Well, I do know a few spells – but I wouldn’t really call myself a wizard. I can – duck!” he shouted, as a shadow swept across the sand.

The shadow was way too big to be that of a duck, so I dove to the ground as something swooped from above. I heard a scream and looked up from where my nose was in the sand in time to see a dragon flying away, the Lemurian struggling in his talons!

I pulled out my D gun, hastily set it to a fine beam, and aimed at the dragon. It was high enough that the fall could severely damage the Lemurian, but the lake was now beneath it so I fired.


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The next scream was a scream of rage from the dragon as my ray burned a hole in one of the mighty green wings. He released the Lemurian, who plummeted to the water, and turned for me. I reset the D gun and fired again. Expanding rings shot out, and the angry dragon would no longer bother anyone.

“Help!” came from the lake. “I can\’t . . . (blub!) . . . swim!”

Oh, great! I wasn’t Johnny Weismuller, either; a dog would be ashamed to paddle like me. I slipped the D gun back in its holster and started for the lander. It could hover; if I got right over the guy, maybe I could toss him a rope.

A vicious snarl came from behind me, accompanied by strong shakes of the ground as something really big aimed toward me. I spun around – and there was a sabretooth tiger advancing in great leaps! I pulled out my D gun, fired –

Or tried to fire; all the gun did was hiss slightly. The damned thing was out of charge! I did the only thing I could think of, remembering that ‘the best defense is a good offence’, and ran toward the tiger, shouting.

It worked, after a fashion. The great beast looked at me, puny me, running at him and stopped, puzzled. “What is this nut up to?” it seemed to think. I grabbed a rock off the beach and threw it, hitting him – luck, not skill! – square on the nose. My second rock bounced

 

off his shoulder.

Okay, smart guy, I asked myself, what now?

I was a good twenty feet away from the lander. It had a tough skin, as it had to repel micrometeors, and could probably withstand this beast’s claws and fangs, but – could I reach it in time?

I found another rock and, shouting at the top of my lungpower, threw it at the sabretooth. It actually backed up, probably in amazement. Spinning around, I ran for the lander. For one fateful second the tiger hesitated – then it roared and charged again.

That one second was what did it. I was in the lander, slamming the lid shut, when it shook from the attack of the roaring tiger. Flipping the power switch, I stuck my tongue out at the prehistoric beast and lifted off, my sudden ascent flipping the tiger upside-down on the beach.

The Lemurian!

I was over one hundred feet in the air. Things had happened fast, but someone who couldn’t swim didn’t take long to drown. I tilted the lander and – there he was, floating on the surface! He seemed to be floating on a silvery raft.


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I saw something worse; the sabretooth, angered at having missed me, was wading out into the lake after the Lemurian, who was drifting toward shore.

Quickly I maneuvered the ship down until I was over the Lemurian. Flipping open the lander’s cover, I tied a rope around the base of my chair which was firmly attached to the ship and tossed it out. In minutes, he scrambled aboard. When he was seated in the other chair I asked, “How did you do that – float, I mean?”

“I know a survival spell,” he muttered, embarrassed. “When I can remember it! It’s the only way I have lasted this long.”

I aimed the lander toward the Martian Made. “What’s your name?” I asked the Lemurian.

“G’rat,” he answered. “And who are you, one who saved me?”

“John Carter,” I answered. “But,” I went on, “I haven’t really saved you. Oh, you haven’t been eaten by a tiger or torn to shreds by a dragon, but – we’re still lost!”

“Better alive and lost than dead and lost!” he responded with thankful sincerity. “Death is so . . . final!”

 

As we slid into the Martian Made’s landing dock, I nodded. “Can’t argue with that! Still, I’d like to find a way to get out of this gap!”

G’rat nodded, sending his elephantine nose into a series of gyrations. “Can’t argue with that, and I’m convinced you’ll find a way. You seem quite. . .resourceful.”

Joolee was beside the lander when I flipped the lid back. “Unca John! Any luck?”

“Yup,” I answered, sourly. “All bad!”

As if to emphasize the ‘bad’, a ship alarm went off. Aarla’s voice rang out, “Company coming!”

It didn’t take us a minute to reach the control room. On the viewscreen was . . . well, all I can say is it looked like one of those old Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers rocketships from ancient Earth’s Saturday morning serials, including whiffs of smoke rising from the rocket tubes. But there was nothing amusing about the golden spear on the nose of the ship, which was sending some kind of ray beam right at us.


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I slipped into the control seat Aarla had abandoned at my entrance. “Hold on!” I shouted, veering our ship to the left at high speed, and switching on our weapons..

The ray slipped by our side. I pushed a button on another gadget I had installed . . . and a D ray pulsed out from the pistol I had welded into the nose decorations of Martian Made. The old rocket ship exploded in a blaze of glory.

“It worked!” Aarla shouted.

“‘Course it did,” Joolee said. “Unca John’s stuff always works!”

Thinking of the fizzled D gun and the saber-tooth tiger, I added, “Well, most always.”

Then I went on, “This gap seems to be some kind of spacial dead-end; old rocket ships, dragons, sabretooth tigers, and so forth.” I looked at G’rat. “I first thought it was set up just to catch you, but now. . . well, it could even have been before the ancient Egyptians that it appeared.”

G’rat nodded and, again, his trunk did its thing. “I wasn’t important enough to warrant its creation,” he said. “But,” he added, “we need to land again.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Why? Did you leave something behind?”

 

“No, no! It’s just that the blonde will be showing up, looking for you.”

This time I lifted both eyebrows. “A blonde? Looking for me?”

“Yes, she shows up every day.”

“Why didn’t she rescue you?”

“She said it wasn’t time; I had to wait for you.”

“Unca John,” Joolee said, protesting. “Do you think it’s safe?”

I shook my head. “No, but there’s no way you could keep me out of it. C’mon, G’rat.”

We got in the lander and took off. In minutes, we were close to the ground – and a dragon flew up, breathing fire, talons wide to receive us. While I had confidence in my lander surviving a sabretooth, this seemed like too much. “G’rat! Can you cast your survival spell?”

“I. . .I’ll try.” He closed his eyes and murmured something . . . and the dragon enlarged! Now there was no way we could resist it! . . .But it wasn’t just the enlarging dragon; I looked at the ground below, and it was larger, too.

“G’rat! We’re shrinking!”


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“I. . .know,” he muttered. “My survival spell has its . . . limits,” He was still struggling, muttering to himself, as we shrunk so small I could see the scales on the dragon; the dragon that was. . . too close!

The giant mouth closed on us.

“G’rat???”

And then we were so small that we slipped right thru the dragon’s skin and were outside again! I looked back and saw the puzzled dragon fly away.

“That. . .wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” I managed, “but – it worked! Now, can we get back to normal?”

Sweat was beaded on G’rat’s face. “I . . hope so,” he said. He muttered again, and soon the rocks on the beach were only boulders. He sighed. “I’ll have to . . . rest,” he said.

“Rest away,” I said, getting out my recharged D gun. “I can use my gun to fight off insects!” Then I added, “Can you detect wizard work?”

“What do you mean?”

“All this has to be the work of a wizard or witch. If it’s as old as I think it is, a current spell has gotta be at work to keep it going!

 

Someone doesn’t want us offa here. The dragon, the sabretooth, that old rocketship, then the dragon again. Somebody’s after us!”

“Very clever, John Carter,” a voice boomed out – a female voice. I looked around, and no one was in sight; had to be in our minds.

I put my hands over my ears. “Hey, crank the volume down!”

There was a chuckle – this time, not blasting my eardrums. “I didn’t


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take your size into consideration,” the voice said. Then it added, threateningly, “You are too much a problem for me, John Carter,” she said. ‘I am Hepzibah, and want you out of the way!”

“Hepzibah?” I said, incredulously. “I’ve never done anything to you!”

“Not yet,” she said. “Now, you never will! Goodbye, John Carter!”

The voice stopped. I looked at G’rat. “Did you hear that?”

He nodded. “You had to ask about wizards and witches!”

 

“Well, you’ve gotta enter into it, too, G’rat. No way I’d ever go up against magic if you weren’t along! But,” I added, “it doesn’t matter who’s to blame; we gotta get outta here! Are you rested enough to get us back to normal?”

Shakily, he said, “I. . .think so.” He closed his eyes again and muttered some more. Gradually, we began to grow. Then –

“There she is!” G’rat exclaimed, pointing to a giant woman who, rapidly shrinking, was coming to us. She was slender, shapely, and definitely blonde. Also, she was ginning broadly. Feeling safe, I flipped the lander’s lid and got out in time for her to run up and hug me.

“Unca John!” she exclaimed.

I looked at her. Only one person ever called me that, but she was above us, in the Martian Made. “Say . . . what?” I asked.

Still holding my arms, she pulled back from me and grinned. “I’m Joolee, Unca John! I came to rescue you!”

“But. . .Joolee’s in my ship – and you’re older . . .and blonde!”


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She grinned again. “The hair color is from a ray-gun blast that was almost too close! I’m ten years older, because I’ve come back from the future. Had to be here while the younger me was in the ship, ‘cause we can’t both be in the same place at the same time.”

“. . . But . . . how?”

“I found the Nekromonicon. Made Andy learn every word of it! Unca John, you don't wanna know how much it took him to translate it all! Anyhow, he created a bubble that brings me back every day. Didn’t have any way of knowing exactly when, so – every day!”

“But . . . you couldn’t’ve! You were trapped with me!”

“Sure – until I came back and saved us!”

“But . . . time travel! Paradoxes! I mean –“

“Hey, it ain’t time travel, Unca John – it’s magic! Don’t worry about it.” She took off a necklace she was wearing. “When you get back to the ship, give this to the younger me. Tell her to wear in. Bring her down here so's it'll charge. Take off, and – you’ll be home, only a few seconds after you left.” She looked at the Lemurian and gave him a knowing smile. “You take care of him now, Rat.” She blinked, and disappeared.

 

“Time to go home!” I said to G’rat. Getting back in the lander, I took us off.

"How could one man learn all the Nekromonicon?” the Lemurian asked.

“‘Cause he ain’t a man – he’s an android!”

“A . . . what?”

“You have been in here quite a while, haven’t you?”

“Whatever he is – what could have motivated him?”

I smiled. “Unrequited love!”

So now you’ve met the newest member of my crew! There'll be more -- adventures, that is; I think that's enough crew.

The End

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