When Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars in 1912 (originally published as a serial in the magazine All-Story, as Under the Moons of Mars), he gave birth to the iconic character John Carter and his wondrous vision of Mars (or as the natives call it, Barsoom). With this setting and character, Burroughs created something that has enthralled generation after generation of readers. Now, a hundred years after the series first debuted in print, new generations of readers—thanks, in part, to the new Disney film—are still finding and discovering the adventures of John Carter for the first time.
Edgar Rice Burroughs—who also authored the Tarzan and Pellucidar series, and dozens of other books—wrote only ten Barsoom novels (plus one collection of two stories). Yet anyone who's read the novels cannot help but imagine the plentiful adventures of John Carter and his ilk that were never cataloged by Burroughs. The last Barsoom story written by Burroughs ("Skeleton Men of Jupiter") was published in the magazine Amazing Stories in 1943, intended to be one of a series of short stories that would later be collected into book form. It was the last ever published by Burroughs, however, and legions of fans have been left waiting for the new adventures of John Carter ever since.
My new anthology, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom (Simon & Schuster, February 7, 2012), depicts all-new adventures set in Edgar Rice Burroughs's fantastical world of Barsoom. For more information about the anthology, please visit the promotional site we've setup to help publicize the book, which features excerpts of other stories in the anthology, the artwork featured in the book, and interviews with the authors and artists. Meanwhile, please enjoy this exclusive io9 preview of the anthology, the "A Tinker of Warhoon" by Tobias S. Buckell.
In A Princess of Mars, John Carter escapes the Green Men of the Warhoon horde only to find himself lost and starving in the desert. He seeks aid at a giant building, four miles square and two hundred feet high, and is allowed inside by a wizened old man. Carter is able to read the man's mind, though the man has no inkling of this. The man tells Carter that the building is an atmosphere plant that supplies air to all of Barsoom, and that the doors can be opened only through the use of a secret code, and that this code is revealed to only two men on Barsoom at any given time. At this point Carter reads the man's mind and learns the code. As the two of them say good night, Carter again reads the man's mind and learns that the man intends to murder him in his sleep, since the man now suspects that Carter has learned too much. Carter escapes the building, and much later, when the atmosphere plant fails, he's able to use his knowledge of the secret code to spring the doors and save all of Barsoom.
Buckell's tale shows us this key event in Barsoomian history from an entirely different point of view-that of a very unusual and talented young member of the Warhoon.
—John Joseph Adams
by Tobias S. Buckell
"Get up!" snarled three-armed Gar Kofan, silhouetted against the light of Barsoom's two moons.
Kaz slowly rose, brushing sand off his gun belt. "It is foolish to stand when someone is shooting at you," he said sullenly.
"They weren't shooting at you," Gar Kofan said, cuffing him lightly on the side of the head. "It was a warning shot. We've found the Jedwar's party."
Kaz looked back toward their wagon. He'd rather be back inside, poring over the insides of an electric range finder.
His people, the Warhoons, were unpredictable and violent, Kaz had always felt. Even more violent than their mortal enemies, the Tharks. They'd spent the last few days watching men fight to the death in the arena in the ruins of what had once been some glorious city. And now they were moving across the wastes once more, looking for new victims and plunder.
Kaz hated this. He'd rather be back in Warhoon.
He'd rather be fixing things.
Machines didn't trick you. Machines didn't have an inscrutable warrior code that always seemed to end with bloodshed. Machines didn't attack you for accidentally bumping into them.
Or yell at you for ducking when bullets flew.
They could cuff him as much as they wanted, or call him coward. He wasn't about to stand still and be shot.
Any other young runt of a Warhoon with a single name like Kaz would have been killed long ago for thinking this way. But unlike any of his kind, Kaz could fix things—weapons in particular—and so he was tolerated by his tribe.
But more importantly, he was tolerated by Gar Kofan.
Gar Kofan did that mostly because he couldn't give up his only apprentice. Gar Kofan was old, and one of his eyes was milky white and blind, from an old duel. He stood hunched over, and he was missing an entire arm, leaving him with only three. His remaining hands now shook whenever he tried to fix small machines, and it was difficult for him to see small things, even when they were right in front of him.
Kaz knew that Gar Kofan needed him more than he needed Gar Kofan. Gar Kofan was really a warrior, not a tinker, and the machines often frustrated and stumped him and left him cursing and throwing them against the wall. Kaz was the far better tinker, because he understood the machines.
With Gar Kofan's past reputation as a fighter and his skill (he had taken the name of Kofan in the usual manner: by killing a Kofan Jedwar), they had built a good life in Warhoon. And so, although Gar Kofan had only three arms and was going blind, Gar Kofan would cheerfully kill anyone who threatened Kaz.
Gar Kofan had turned to tinkering with machines and fixing the electric range finders on rifles after he'd lost his arm. He had taught Kaz all he knew, since the day two years ago when he found Kaz loitering around his wagon and asking questions about how everything worked.
At first, Gar Kofan had thrown him out of the wagon and told him to go away. But when Kaz showed a knack for fixing things, Gar Kofan took him on as an apprentice.
Soon Kaz had gained a spot in the back of the wagon to sleep on, a knife and pistol of his own, and food.
And life was . . . acceptable, Kaz thought.
At least when people weren't shooting at him.
The Jedwar, Aav Kanan, had designs on becoming a jed, if possible. He was always roaming the wastes, looking for new conquests, or new ways to raise his stature. One day, everyone knew, Aav Kanan would challenge a jed and kill him to take his position.
"Gar Kofan?" Kaz asked, as he followed behind. "Aav Kanan never comes out here to the northwest. It's filled with Zodangan or Helium scouts who would strike at us from the air."
Gar Kofan glanced up. "Then there must be something important enough to bring him out here."
And that was all he would say about that.
In the rocks among an outcropping nearby, a small council had gathered around Aav Kanan, who gestured at them to approach. "Hurry up, cripple," he snarled at Gar Kofan. "We don't have much time before the attack."
Kaz climbed up the ridge behind Gar Kofan and Aav Kanan, struggling to keep up. Even infirm and half blind, Gar Kofan's days as a warrior left him energetic and strong enough to outpace him. When Kaz managed to catch up, Aav Kanan was pointing in the distance at a canal and the high trees that ran along its sides.
And at the massive building that squatted there.
Two hundred feet high and dominating the landscape for miles, it was a building that brought a smile to Kaz's lips. Unlike the city of Warhoon—stripped down, crumbling, reused by a people who had no idea how it had even been built—this building gleamed with purpose. It had been built and it had been maintained, and whoever had built it . . . their craft, their purpose seemed to call out to Kaz.
"The Red Men don't want us out here, near this . . . thing," Aav Kanan said. "Which means there must be great riches inside. Look at how massive it is."
They all stared for a long, silent moment.
"There was only one doorway in, that I can perceive," Aav Kanan said mildly, breaking the silence.
"Do you want us to try and tinker the doorway open?" Gar Kofan asked.
Kaz saw straightaway this was not Aav Kanan's intent. Not if he was planning to attack so soon.
"I want you to set the detonator for a very large explosion that will disable the doors," Aav Kanan said. "You will throw it inside that structure when the doors open. There is a guard or a keeper, who comes out once in a great while. The next time he does, we will be nearby to throw the bomb inside, thus wrecking the door's closing mechanism, and we will storm it and take our plunder and be gone before the next flier comes overhead. The Red warriors might be able to fly, but their stupidity is that they keep regular schedules."
Gar Kofan snorted, along with all the other warriors, but Kaz remained silent. Schedules, he thought, were perfectly sensible things. He had to admit, however, if you were guarding something valuable, it was foolish to be predictable.
The Red warriors—if indeed they had built this great building—had assumed the impenetrable walls were all the protection they needed. The flier patrols were an afterthought.
One the Warhoons would exploit.
Aav Kanan's men were nervous about using explosives. They, like most Green Men, were uniformly excellent marksmen with a rifle, but preferred fighting hand-to-hand with swords. "Real weapons for real warriors," they said.
Back in the wagon, Gar Kofan and Kaz set to building a powerful explosive and fitting a timer to it, while Aav Kanan paced around muttering about time.
If time was of such essence, Kaz thought, then maybe Aav Kanan shouldn't have sent for them at the last minute.
But it was not in the nature of Warhoons to plan too far ahead.
A strange warrior once fought a great fight in the arena when Kaz was just out of the egg. Kaz thought about him often, and was thinking about him as he worked on the bomb. The man had been neither Green nor Red, but almost colorless. Someone had said the stranger called himself Jan Kahrtr, an odd enough sounding name.
Normally Kaz paid no attention to the bloodshed out in the arena. He had too many rifles to fix. But seeing this oddly colored stranger, who must have traveled from some far corner of Barsoom, had set Kaz's imagination ablaze. How big was Barsoom? What other people roamed its surface, traversed the great canals that stretched forever over the horizon?
What other great, ruined cities lay littered under the two moons? And what secrets might they give Kaz?
He thought about that a lot.
It was a shame the Kahrtr man had died from the blade of a Zodangan. Kaz had hoped the man might live, so that he could visit his cell and ask him where he came from.
There was a rumor that Kahrtr was now a Prince of Helium, and had been the one who led the Thark attack on the Zodangans, but who knew if that was true?
Kaz showed the timer mechanism to one of Aav Kanan's bolder warriors, and gave him the ball-shaped explosive. "It will roll without harming the timer," Kaz said. He'd buried the timer into the heart of the explosive, and wrapped it all in husk leaves shaped into a ball.
The bomb was crudely made of Zodangan explosives, probably stolen by Tharks and traded northward. Kaz always questioned anyone who traded things to him, trying to ascertain where they came from. It was a shame, he thought, that Warhoon couldn't make explosives of their own. They could use them to divert canals, blow open ancient tunnels, and explore old ruins, or just help fight enemy clans . . . but Warhoons were uninterested in science and building things. So there was no chance of it.
Aav Kanan's warrior slowly crawled along the ground and hid behind a bush. And waited.
The night wore on, and Kaz found himself wanting to drift off and sleep. But he wanted to see what was coming, and no one had cuffed him and ordered him back to the wagon, so he forced himself to stay alert.
And then it happened: A crack of light broke out from a cut in the wall as a door slowly opened. In the light, a frail, old Red warrior slowly walked out. He looked up at the moons and bowed to them, and then took in a deep breath of air with what looked like great satisfaction.
The moment the Red turned his back, the hiding warrior sprinted forward. As he threw the bomb, the old man half-turned, saw him, and moved to run back inside.
That was when a rope Kaz hadn't noticed on the ground leapt up, the noose catching the old man by the foot. On the other end of the rope, Warhoon warriors pulled quickly and dragged the old man away from the building.
The door began shutting automatically, an emergency reaction, but the bomb made it inside just before it snapped shut.
Nothing happened for a long moment. Then, just as Aav Kanan turned toward Kaz, fury on his face, a distant thud indicated that it had worked. A faint trickle of smoke leaked out from around the door, and the Warhoons cheered.
But that cheer died soon enough as they approached the door and tried to force it open.
Kaz swallowed nervously. This was not good.
The old man on the ground laughed. "There is no explosion on Barsoom that could break that door, or even those walls. You fools."
Aav Kanan's attention flicked away from Kaz, and Kaz felt a surge of relief. Very carefully, and so as not to draw attention, he stepped back as Aav Kanan stalked over to the old man.
"How do we get it inside?" Aav Kanan demanded.
"You can't," was the reply. "I'm the keeper of the plant, and I will not let the likes of you in." He spat.
Aav Kanan hit him, and Kaz heard the man's brittle old ribs crack. He screamed in pain. They always did. But Aav Kanan was just getting started.
The beating continued, and Kaz wondered how the old man was able to take so much of it.
"What is inside?" Aav Kanan finally asked, bent close to the old man's crumpled face.
"The most precious thing you can imagine," the keeper of the complex said. And he laughed.
Aav Kanan snarled and struck him with a tremendous punch to the side of his head. The old man lay still on the ground.
The warriors left him there and returned to the door. But nothing would budge it.
"Fliers are approaching," Aav Kanan said, and ordered that the old man to be thrown in the wagon with Gar Kofan and Kaz. "At least your services will be of some use. When the old man awakes, interrogate him. We must find a way in."
They fled for the hills where the valleys and caves could hide them from eyes in the sky.
At midday, the old man woke up, groaning. Kaz sat with him, as he thought it best to keep himself hidden in the wagon, away from Aav Kanan's fury.
Kaz gave the Red Man sustenance, as they had stopped by several mantalia and milked the plants. The old man thanked him, and then Kaz asked him how they could get inside the building.
"You cannot," the man said. "The doors will sense duress from any of us if you force us to open them. It is a safety protocol."
"But what is inside?" Kaz asked, dreaming of amazing, magical things.
"The most precious thing in all Barsoom," the old man insisted. "Air."
He had, Kaz concluded, obviously been hit on the head too hard.
When they'd found shelter from the fliers, Kaz's fears became realized as Aav Kanan pulled him out of the wagon and threw him out into the center of a circle of many warriors.
"Your bomb failed," he said. "I do not tolerate failure."
Kaz looked up at him. The bomb had been the most powerful anyone in Warhoon could have built, better than anything Gar Kofan could have built.
That's why Gar Kofan hadn't tried to do this. Because he couldn't do it; only he, Kaz, possessed the necessary skills. Yet now his master stood quietly in the circle, saying nothing in Kaz's defense. Aav Kanan was either going to beat him unconscious for failure or kill him.
Kaz wasn't sure which to hope for.
"Wait," Kaz said, thinking quickly. "He said ‘us' when he woke up."
Aav Kanan hesitated. "What do you mean?"
"Perhaps he has an apprentice, as I am apprenticed to Gar Kofan. Still in the building, or maybe elsewhere. The more of them we can capture, the more we can find out. Maybe the apprentice will tell us something the old one won't."
Gar Kofan, nervous about having his name dragged into the matter at hand, glared at Kaz. But Aav Kanan thought about it, and then nodded and lowered his four hands.
"We will get the old man to tell us where his others are," he said. "And then see what they will tell us."
Kaz let out a deep breath.
He'd escaped something horrible. For now.
Kaz's suggestion set into motion more beatings of the old man, who eventually confessed to having an apprentice living near Helium.
So Aav Kanan had left them with the old man, who Gar Kofan said was dying from his beatings. There was nothing they could do for him but proceed slowly and carefully on their journey back to Warhoon. This way, they would get out of Aav Kanan's way, and hopefully he would soon forget his wrath as Gar Kofan and Kaz hid in the ruins of Warhoon and in the crowds of the arena.
"If we are lucky," Gar Kofan said, "the Red warriors will spot him and kill him and we'll be rid of him."
Kaz did not reply, but secretly agreed.
On the fourth day of the journey Kaz found the old man playing with a piece of machinery he'd kept hidden away, holding it up and frowning. "Is your wagon airtight?" the old man asked.
"No." Kaz pointed at all the grilles and openings throughout.
"Then we are in great danger! All of Barsoom!"
"What do you mean? What danger?" Kas Jalat asked.
"I am the keeper of the atmosphere plant that you abducted me from," said the old man slowly. Kaz feared that he was further along toward death than life. "It has been my life's work. I have guarded it zealously, but in my old age, I grew too fond of walking outside to remind myself how beautiful it was to stand outside and taste the world. It is my own fault. I have grown weak in my old age, and should have retired long ago.
"You know Barsoom is a dying world. The great city-makers left us long ago. We are fewer in number and we've forgotten much of our history and technology.
"Our atmosphere is dying as well. But this plant pumps enough air into the crosswinds out here in the northwest to circulate around the world, and it lets us keep living. Without it, we will slowly suffocate and die. And now my instruments tell me the quality of air has dropped slightly. Your savage warriors, who threw that bomb inside after kidnapping me, have destroyed one of the great machines inside. I must get back there to fix it. Do you understand?"
Gar Kofan and Kaz argued about it for an entire day. Gar Kofan even insisted on seeing the device, and forced the dying keeper to explain everything about it, looking on as the keeper tested the air.
Still, he was suspicious.
"Let us think about this," Kaz told him. "Why would he lie, only to be taken back to a treasure-hold, if he is dying? He seems scared. And that device . . ."
"It could be anything," Gar Kofan sniffed.
"But what if he is right?" Kaz insisted.
"But what if he is lying?"
Kaz held out his hands. "If we are right, and he is lying, than it only costs us something small to change our course, and go check. If he is right, then we may as well all die right now."
"We're already well into our journey," Gar Kofan protested.
Kaz further considered the matter then said, "Suppose he is wrong, and is hiding a treasure. If we go with him and he takes us into a treasure-hold, then we will succeed in gaining the plunder. If he speaks the truth, then we will save all Barsoom. If he lies and we continue to Warhoon, then we lose another chance at the treasure. If he speaks true and we continue down this path, we may lose the very air we breathe."
Gar Kofan grumbled, but finally saw the wisdom in Kaz's argument and turned them around.
Kaz wanted them to hurry, but Gar Kofan could only drive the thoats to pull the wagon so fast.
He took a deep breath.
Did it seem less filling? He wasn't sure. He could just be imagining it, driven to fear by the ravings of an old man who was dying from the beating Aav Kanan gave him.
The keeper died when they were within sight of the canal's tall trees. As his last breath rattled from his lips, Kaz groaned. They'd been so close!
"Our only hope now is that Aav Kanan has the apprentice, and that maybe he can help us," Gar Kofan said.
They buried the keeper in the shadow of the structure he had spent most of his life guarding, and then hid from the flier patrols in the nearby hills.
"We'll wait for Aav Kanan to come back and try the doors again," Gar Kofan said.
Kaz noticed the old warrior taking deeper breaths. How long did they have before the bad air would overcome them? He wished he knew more about machines than he did; he wished he knew more about everything.
They spent the next days in a cave, quietly waiting and doing something Kaz never thought he'd do: hoping for Aav Kanan to return.
Three days after the death of the old man, with no sign yet of Aav Kanan, the fliers that had been circling overhead descended from the skies in a panic. Scouts surrounded the building, and more fliers than Kaz had even realized existed flocked nearby and then landed along the sides of the canal.
"They know something's wrong," Kaz told Gar Kofan. And by now, even Gar Kofan had to admit there was something wrong with the air. They were both breathing more heavily, and not just because they were climbing around so much.
There was something wrong with the very air of Barsoom itself.
The old man had been right.
"I did this," Kaz whispered sadly to Gar Kofan. "This is all my fault. I used those Zodangan explosives. They must have broken something inside the atmosphere plant."
In the end, he thought, all of Barsoom would be a ruin because of him.
"Aav Kanan would have killed you had you refused. And then I would have built the bomb," Gar Kofan said.
But, Kaz thought, Gar Kofan wouldn't have made one as powerful as his. And maybe the atmosphere factory would still be working.
Aav Kanan returned after another four days in a foul mood, having evaded the Red warriors of Helium and tracked across the sacked city of Zodanga. They'd moved so quickly they had left exhausted and dying thoats in their wake.
"The apprentice?" Kaz asked.
"He was of no use," Aav Kanan said. "We could torture no useful information out of him, so we threw him into the pits beneath his own home."
Kaz slumped. "You fool!" he said, before he realized the words were out of his mouth.
Aav Kanan hit Kaz so hard he was knocked off his feet and sent flying backward, and when Kaz looked up, the Jedwar had his sword out and was ready to kill him. But Gar Kofan suddenly leapt in front of Aav Kanan, and the Jedwar's blade struck Gar Kofan, who grabbed hold of it. "Listen to Kaz, Jedwar," he gasped. "You must listen."
And as Gar Kofan kneeled before Aav Kanan, slowly dying but never letting go of the sword with his three hands, Kaz told Aav Kanan everything the keeper had told him.
But the Jedwar only laughed and jerked his sword out of Gar Kofan's stomach, leaving him to die on the ground. "You are the fool, tinker, if you think I'll believe something is wrong with the air. It is air, little one. The air always has been. It will always be."
Kaz bit his lip as Aav Kanan walked away. Did the Jedwar not use his mind? Didn't he understand the consequences if he was wrong?
He wished he were strong enough to stand, to fight Aav Kanan. But Kaz well knew what the consequences would be if he tried.
Aav Kanan would skewer him even faster than he had Gar Kofan.
Aav Kanan was studying the collection of Red warriors that had grown around the building. They kept arriving by fliers, and soon a crowd of them gathered around the door.
One of Aav Kanan's warriors had forced Kaz to watch the Reds. "What are they doing? They're trying to get in, aren't they?"
"Yes," Kaz said. "But don't you think it's strange that they can't? Maybe this place is as important as the keeper claimed—" He would have said more, but he was knocked back with a solid punch.
"Stop your mewling, idiot," Aav Kanan snarled. "There is something more important in there. Get out of here. Get your wagon and go back to Warhoon. You are of no use. Go, before I change my mind and kill you."
No use? Kaz thought, stumbling out of the camp. No use?
Who fixed their guns? Who made sure their electric range finders worked? Who fixed the grips on their swords? They came to him when their things were broken, but they despised him because he didn't share their bloodthirst, their desire for plunder, and their hatred of outsiders. They made fun of his curiosity. They cuffed him for his questions.
Gar Kofan was dead. At Aav Kanan's own hands.
And now they sent Kaz away, too. How many other tinkers were there in Warhoon? Not enough to keep the broken equipment the warriors depended on going. Without the likes of Kaz, eventually Aav Kanan and his kind would have nothing but sharpened sticks and stones to kill one another with, and then the Tharks or some other tribe would sweep in and destroy the Warhoons. They'd be cutting their own throats if they kicked Kaz out.
They'd be cutting all of Barsoom's throats, he thought.
Kaz did not prod the thoats into snorting and pulling the wagon back to Warhoon. He sat inside, still, just like one of the old statues lying on its back in the ruins of Warhoon.
The Red Men had fliers, and good weapons, but Aav Kanan and his men were furious fighters. If they overwhelmed the Reds, who might be there to fix the atmosphere plant, then all of Barsoom would all die for sure.
And since they didn't even realize they were being watched, they were vulnerable. Kaz was a tinker, but even he knew the effect a surprise attack would have on the men gathered around the plant: They'd be overcome. Maybe slaughtered.
Kaz looked over at one of Gar Kofan's long, wicked swords, which he kept mounted over his workbench.
If there was to be a future, the men who could build machines, the men who could create things, must triumph. And those who gathered unawares by the atmosphere plant needed all the help they could get if they were to survive Aav Kanan's onslaught.
Kaz had to hurry. Already he could feel that the air was stale, and getting worse.
In addition to arming himself, he would need something else. An edge only he could create.
The warrior party spread apart as Kaz appeared, one of his repaired rifles in hand, pointed at the sky.
"Why are you holding a rifle?" Aav Kanan hissed. "And what is that thing around your neck?"
He pointed to the hose dangling from a canister that Kaz had welded together.
"I'm here one last time to talk you out of this," Kaz said, not answering his question. "Can you not feel the air getting harder to breathe? Like a small, crowded room on a hot day?"
Some of Aav Kanan's warriors shifted. Yes, they had noticed it, but the lure of plunder was too great. And as Aav Kanan had insisted, air had always been. How could people affect that? It was a Red warrior trick, that was all.
"Talk," Aav Kanan said. "And why the rifle?"
"Because I'm going to shoot you if you try to attack them," Kaz said calmly. "And by firing, I will warn the technicians trying to get into the building. And if you shoot me, right now, that will also warn them."
Aav Kanan blinked, working out the logic. He pulled his sword free, and Kaz lowered the rifle to aim at him.
"You aim a rifle at me?" Aav Kanan spat. "When I hold a sword? This is why you are no real warrior, little one. You are a disgrace. Drop the rifle and truly face me. With a blade."
"No," Kaz said. "There is something more important at stake."
They remained frozen, Kaz trembling slightly inside as he kept the gun aimed at Aav Kanan, until the Jedwar lowered his sword. "You are dead, tinker," he told Kaz.
"You killed us all when you ordered me to throw that bomb inside the plant," Kaz said. "So it matters not to me whether I die now or die later."
Already the air was thin enough that he found it hard to take in sufficient breath to speak a full sentence. How was Aav Kanan ignoring this?
"If the air fades, then it was meant to be," Aav Kanan said softly. "Maybe it isn't our place to meddle with such things. We are here to live as we are here to live. Is that not enough?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Kaz noticed two warriors were edging away from Aav Kanan, and Kaz realized that they were slowly surrounding him.
"No, it isn't," Kaz said. "There is more than that. There—" One of the warriors moved too close, and Kaz swung the rifle to warn him back.
The moment he did, Aav Kanan leapt at him with startling speed. Kaz couldn't swing the rifle back to shoot at him, and the Jedwar smacked into him so hard that Kaz couldn't see anything for a second.
He was dead. He knew it with such certainty that he relaxed and waited for it to happen.
But it didn't. Kaz opened his eyes and found Aav Kanan pushing himself up onto all his arms and feet, coughing and gasping for air.
Kaz kicked him in the ribs and crawled back away. As he did so he grabbed the hose and put it in his mouth. The machine he'd built worked: air compressed and stored inside the canister now flooded his lungs. Kaz's head cleared, and he could stand easily now.
The two other warriors watched, not interfering. A duel, after all, was a duel.
Aav Kanan focused on the fight again, his mighty leap still leaving him gasping for air, but Kaz had gotten clear and stood again. He fumbled for the rifle, looking to fire it and warn the Red warriors, but Aav Kanan knocked it free. Even struggling to breathe he was still stronger than Kaz.
He raised his sword with an unsteady hand.
This gave Kaz time to free his own sword, one of Gar Kofan's keepsakes. He blocked Aav Kanan's weak strike and the two slowly fumbled around, Aav gasping for air and trying to gain the strength to strike, and Kaz doing his best to stay free of the wicked blade.
With each sword thrust, they both weakened. For Aav it was the air getting thinner and thinner. For Kaz, it was the heavy sword and his small stature. The warriors no longer stood in a circle around them: they'd started to sit down, out of breath and dizzy.
Aav Kanan raised his sword with two hands over his head, and began laughing. "It was just air," he said. "Worthless, useless, air."
When he swung, Kaz hit him on the head with his sword handle, and the confused Jedwar stumbled, tripped, and fell onto the point of his own sword. He cried out, and then lay on his side, holding the wound and falling silent.
The canister of air gasped and whistled, and gave out. There was nothing to breathe but the thinning atmosphere now. But his ability to build things had saved him. Without the strength of real air to breathe from his device, he would have died instantly at Aav Kanan's many hands.
Kaz staggered to the top of their hiding place and watched the atmosphere plant with what he thought were his last breaths. He watched as a flier hastily landed. He watched as a strange warrior with no color ran to the doors. It was Jan Kahrtr himself. The rumors were true, he wasn't dead, he had escaped Warhoon somehow, and allied himself with the Red warriors.
He opened the doors—how, Kaz couldn't tell—and the half-dead technicians ran inside.
And then Kaz passed out.
When Kaz awoke, it was to the sweet taste of fresh air. The Warhoons walked up to his resting place. "Kaz Kanan!" they called out, as they offered him all Aav Kanan's possessions. By the right of combat, Kaz was Jedwar now.
Him, Kaz, a Jedwar, by right of battle! Who could have imagined such a thing? Kaz Kanan, he repeated to himself, a Jedwar of Barsoom.
He looked around. That meant that these Warhoons were his to lead. What great things could he do as a leader when he returned to Warhoon? There were parts of the city that could be rebuilt. There were ruins that he could command be explored. He could turn Warhoon into a great city. A more powerful one, even.
But every warrior who wanted to prove himself would challenge him to a duel to the death to take the title of Jedwar from him. No, Kaz realized, they would not take his orders happily. Because his orders would have nothing to do with blood, and fighting, and conquest. And if he helped his people become even more powerful, what would they do with that power?
There would be more spilled blood and fighting. And it would steal him away from being able to tinker, to think, and to hunt for answers. No good would come of it, he realized.
So he left the Warhoons, confused, with Aav Kanan's body and possessions, as he led the thoats and the wagon away from the canal and the atmosphere plant.
There was more in Barsoom than just the city of Warhoon and its warriors, Kaz thought. More than bloodsport in the arena, or the challenge of battles. And for him, maybe there could be more than just repairing rifles. Rumors said Tharks moved about in the city of Helium. Perhaps Kaz could pass as a Thark, and learn the technologies of the Red warriors.
Or maybe he would travel farther than just Helium.
He didn't know. But the air had never tasted sweeter, and the morning had never held more promise.
John Joseph Adams here again. I hope you enjoyed the story. Again, it's from my new anthology, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom (Simon & Schuster, February 7, 2012), which depicts all-new adventures set in Edgar Rice Burroughs's fantastical world of Barsoom. For more information about the anthology, please visit the promotional site, which features excerpts of other stories in the anthology, the artwork featured in the book, and interviews with the authors and artists. Thanks for reading!