As I end my time on earth, I must tell the story of the aftermath of my Slayer's death.
When she sacrificed herself to save the world and her sister. She was brave and resourceful and kind and loyal. All qualities I appreciated as her Watcher and would have made me proud to be her father in fact instead of simply a mentor.
Buffy Summers died to save the world, and it became a poorer place for her loss. But this is not a tale of her death, but of what happened afterwards.
As I have said, I was living in England monitoring the progress reports of various Potentials, when a chill breeze swung open the window of my office. I rose to close it, and when I returned to my desk I found a strange scroll placed in the center of my blotter. It wasn't papyrus, vellum, or any other material I was familiar with and it was secured with a leather strap of unusual odor and texture.
My curiosity piqued, I undid the strap and found a sheave of documents written in the bouncy ebullient script so indicative of my former protégé. The ink she used was purple and also unfamiliar to me, but it appeared to have been written with a quill or some other type of dipped pen.
It began thus...
"Hey Watcher Mine!
The reports of my death are, as usual, wrong. Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you, but things have been a little hectic and the post office doesn't really work where I am. Anyhow, I've got a story for your notebooks and parts will make you want to clean your glasses, but keep reading.
I miss everybody and I don't know If I'll ever get back, but remember, I love you all!!!
I felt tears welling up at that last, so I dabbed my eyes, settled back in my chair and began to read...
Plunging to your death, even when it's to save the world, is not fun. Glory was down, Doc was down, Tara had her mind back and was with Willow, Dawn was safe, Xander and Anya were sort of together, and Spike and I had come to an understanding. I had lived longer than most Slayers and I knew my job came with an expiration date.
I tumbled as I fell and as I was facing the sky. Beyond the vortex that had opened up, I saw the stars and the planets spinning around and in the center a single red dot. I had never been much of science girl, but even I knew that was Mars. Named after a war god. It seemed appropriate that I would see it in my last moments. I mean what was I? Just a supernatural warrior.
As I looked at it it seemed to call me across all that space. Like a magnet pulling Mr. Wizard's iron filings. I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms and felt the pull as it dragged me through the cold and the darkness.
I woke up lying on some weird springy mossy stuff and I was stark naked. If this was heaven, God had some explaining to do, and if it was hell, it had gotten a bad rap. It was noonish and the sun was warm, and all of a sudden I just knew I was on Mars.
I was in the middle of a field of this yellow moss with occasional sparkly boulders pushing through it. Over to my left was a small stone building-y thing. I didn't see any water or any other signs of civilization, and as I had a serious case of dry-mouth I decided to get up, and check out the neighborhood.
Getting to my feet made me feel like I was in a bouncy house. I could really jump before. Slayer strength you know. But now I felt like my legs were spring-loaded and I took off straight up into the sky about twenty feet. Landing was soft at least so I made an important mental note. Martian gravity equals flyweight Buffy. After taking a few egg-practice-like moments to learn how to walk without falling on my face, and trusty Slayer-reflexes to the fore, I decided to crawl over to the building, as that only looked slightly stupid instead of America's Funniest Videos-worthy.
There were no doors or windows on the side I was on, but it was only a little shorter than me so I carefully climbed on top. I was lying on a glass roof about four or so inches thick. Underneath were about a hundred pure white giant eggs. A bunch had already hatched and the former occupants were looking up at me with definite curiosity.
They were yellowish green with big heads, long necks, thin bodies, and a lot of legs. Their eyes were a lot like a chameleons or a K'lmar demons. You know the kind that can look at two different things at once? They also had tiny little ears and slit nostrils so that ruled out K'lmar.
Their eyes were dark red which really jumped out from the white eyeball and they had small but nasty looking tusk-ish teeth sticking up from their lower jaws. They were weirdly hideously cute and it was really neat watching them hatch out of their shells and start looking around at the world. Just then I heard a soft scrape behind me.
I spun and nearly fell over, but managed to keep what was left of my dignity as I saw a group of the little guy's relatives charging down on me. About ten feet away was the point of a very large, very sharp looking spearhead that was attached to a pole about forty feet long.
The grown-up holding on to the spear, was about fifteen foot tall and on Earth, probably would've weighed close to a quarter of a ton. He sat on his horse? His whatever, the same way a human would with his lowest legs wrapped around it, while his two right hands held that mondo spear and his two left hands were stretched out for balance. He was a dark olive green and his tusks stretched up to be about even with his eyeline.
His horsy-thing was also pretty imposing. About two Buffy's tall at the shoulder and four legs on each side with a huge flat tail. It had a wide mouth full of nasty looking teeth also. Looking down I saw how they had snuck up on me. It's feet were big and padded, like a jumbo set of sneakers.
Behind this first guy, there were a lot of others. All well armed and angry looking. As I was naked and unarmed, fleeing seemed like the best option so I jumped. I must have gone a hundred feet up and away from the incubator before I landed. The moss soaked the impact pretty well so I wasn't hurt.
Back over at the charging mob, they had all stopped and some were staring at me with a look a lot like you would get if you started seeing a hamster sing, while the others were checking out the kids to make sure the mean human hadn't messed with them. They started chatting with each other and doing the point at the naked blond thing.
The fact that I hadn't hurt their kids and that I was unarmed, may have calmed them down some, but the biggest thing, I found out later was my flea impression. Even though these Martians are big and strong, they're big and strong for Martian gravity. That means that a normal human could probably out wrestle them if they were well-trained, while the big guys could probably barely stand on Earth.
That meant my jump was just as spectacular on Mars as it would have been in Sunny-D, and made me some instant fanboys who would rather capture me than serve up a Buffy-kebab.
I thought about just taking off running as the big guys approached me, but then I saw that all of them had a honking huge rifle strapped beside them. And with me being in the middle of a prairie with no place to hide...That did not bode well for escape at this time.
One of them dismounted and stripped off his weapons before walking towards me. When he was about ten feet away he unclipped a solid gold looking bracelet from one of his left wrists and offered it to me while saying something Martiany. He then stood there waiting for my answer.
Not speaking Martian, I was, for once, at a loss for words. I finally decided to put my hand over my heart and bow while saying nice things about the color of his fangs and the weather, because if they had wanted me dead, I would have been. So this had to be some kind of peace thingy. I then stepped forward and reaching wayyyy up, took the bracelet and clipped it around my upper left arm while smiling.
He smiled back and interlocking one of his lower arms with mine, escorted me back to the others who still sat there waiting. He then lifted me on to the back of his horsy-thing and mounted himself. Then all of us rode off into the prairie.
We had been riding for about an hour when I could see that we were heading uphill. I found out later that we were near the edge of one of Mars' dried up oceans. Apparently they had found me where Martian fishies used to swim.
A little bit later we were cruising along the edge of some moderately impressive mountains and after cutting through a canyon it opened up into a huge valley with a gigantic, and seriously ancient looking, city at the other end. Soon we were galloping (can you use gallop if there are no hoofy bits involved?) up a crumbling stone road which ended at what was left of the city's walls with a large set of stone stairs. And up the stairs we went.
Like I said, this city was old. I mean tweed-land old or older. I couldn't sense or spot anybody living in any of these buildings as we passed them. In the center was a large plaza and there were people there at least, about a thousand more of the green guys camped around the edge.
Unless you counted the leather straps that they carried their weapons with or the gold and silver jewelry they all seemed to wear, they were all as naked as I was. Then women looked a lot like the men except they were generally shorter (only two and a half Buffy's tall), had longer tusks, and were a lighter green in skin tone. The kids were lighter green still and all looked alike to me except for some which seemed a little taller than others. Age probably.
Without hair you really couldn't judge their ages as they don't go all wrinkly really. But I learned later they can live up to a thousand Earth years (or 500 Martian ones) before they go on a final trip down the Iss river. No one knows what's at the end of that river and no one has ever come back, so I'm figuring a sea monster.
Out of every thousand Martians only one or two dies from illness, only about twenty take the river cruise, and all the rest die from a serious case of violence. Duels, war, aviation (more on this later), hunting, and a lot of the kids get gnawed on by something called the great white apes. Life on Mars is almost as dangerous as living on a Hellmouth from what I've learned.
This means that the population is slowly and surely shrinking. There are other reasons for sudden death, but the strong possibility of casual violence means that no Martian is ever far from a weapon, and is not shy about using it.
As we rode up on the center of this camp we were surrounded by a lot of big green guys who all looked like they wanted to play 'use Buffy as a chew toy'. The guy in charge of the group that had found me, growled something leader-ish and they backed off though. Then my group headed off at a trot towards the entrance of a seriously palacey looking building. I mean, white marble, gold, jewels. It looked like it could have been dropped on the Vegas strip and people would have gone "Isn't that a little much?"
We dismounted at the entrance and after going up a ramp through the huge entrance, we entered a room filled with gorgeously carved wood tables and chairs as well as about fifty or so green guys. These green guys were in a semi-circle around a platform with a really really big green guy who was dressed like the second coming of Liberace. I mean jewelry, his leather strappy things had gold set into them, he was even wearing a white fur cape with a red silk lining!
Looking around, it was pretty obvious that these green guys were not the original tenants of this place. For one thing all the chairs and desks were to Buffy scale, not giant green Martian scale. That meant there were possibly other folks around I might be able to get along with. Unless the big green guys had killed them all of course.
The guy that had given me the armband again interlocked his arm with mine and we waited at the entrance of this huge room. After a moment we were waved forward and walked towards the Guy in Charge.
He got to his feet and said something to my escort who replied something else. At the time I had no idea what they saying but I found out later it was just each other's name and title. If they hadn't know each other and couldn't do that...then it got interesting.
My escort was a guy named Tars Tarkus (and no I did NOT butcher that name!) and was pretty much second in command of all the green guys camped here. Apparently he was smart and a serious badass and he spent the next few minutes explaining how his group had found me.
Then the Green Guy in Charge asked me something and I replied in plain old english that I was sorry I couldn't understand him and smiled a little. He smiled back. I found out later, smiling to a Green Martian is a lot like smiling to a chimp. It doesn't mean what you might think it does. They generally smile when torturing somebody or killing an enemy in some gory creative way. Oh, and if you hear one laughing, run.
The guys surrounding the Green Guy in Charge started poking and prodding me. Feeling my muscles and skin and hair. After a while the boss decided he wanted to see me do my superball impression. So he gestured at me to follow him and headed towards the outside.
I hadn't tried walking on my own since I had fallen on my butt back at the incubator and had been navigating since then by hanging on to Tars' arm. Naturally I tried to follow and fell on my butt again after bouncing off several tables and chairs in the process. This amused the green guys and now a lot of them were smiling at my bruising progress. "Fine," I thought, "back to crawling!" I started forward on hands and knees, and then one of them grabbed me by a bruised shoulder and hauled me to my feet.
As he set me down (pretty roughly too) his face was bent close to mine so I did what came naturally, I slugged him in the jaw. I didn't use my full strength, but he still dropped like a bag of stuff that comes in bags. I turned to face the others, expecting to get gang piled, but they were smiling and laughing at the guy I had just dropped.
The green guy lay there as Tars offered me his arm and the rest of us headed outside. The Boss then said 'sak' and Tars jumped in the air a few times to show me what they wanted. So I did my best 'sak' and landed on the far side of the plaza, this time staying upright. I then 'sakked' my way back in shorter hops to lots of hoots and conversation.
The crowd and the Boss wanted me to do more 'sakking' but my stomach put in a vote for a sitdown strike so I pointed at it and my mouth and stood still. Tars and the Boss had short meeting then Tars called over to a smaller green girl and told her something. She offered me her arm and we walked into a large building on the other side of the open area.
She was only one and a half Buffys tall and a really pretty light olive green. Eventually I found out her name was Sola and she was part of Tars' family group/clan/whatever. In the building was a big room with silks and furs laying all over. After pointing towards a really comfy looking pile of silks she made a hissing noise and a new weird thing entered on ten stubby legs.
It was smaller than a green guy, larger than me and had a head that Willow would have been terrified of, especially with the lots and lots of fangs inside the froggy shaped mouth.
Sola looked into the creature's eyes and gave it some kind of command. It looked more than willing and able to attempt to make me a light snack, but it just walked over to the only door and lay down blocking the way.
This Martian guard dog kept a close eye on me during my time with the green guys, and never abandoned me.
As Sola had taken off, and a pretty large ten-legged obstacle was in the exit route, I decided to check out the accommodations. There was a gorgeous mural on the wall with mountains, rivers, oceans, flowers, and trees. Judging from what I had seen on my way in, this was either wishful thinking or Mars had seriously gone downhill since the painting was made.
Sola came back a few minutes later with some weird looking stuff that was probably food. The white lump was like cheese consistency tofu and the liquid was some kind of slighty acidic milky stuff. It tasted alright though and as I was still a growing Slayer, I ate every bit and drank every drop.
I felt a whole lot better after I had eaten and immediately felt tired. I had been going since...I really wasn't sure actually, but I still felt worn out. I crashed out on one of the piles of silks and was asleep almost as soon as I had stretched out. When I woke up, it was dark outside and I was freezing. Someone had thrown a fur over me, but my tossing and rolling had pulled it off partially. I fumbled around trying to haul it over my shivering self when another hand pulled it over my shoulders providing instant snugglies, then added another one on top.
I could tell with my slayerized vision it was Sola. She was one of the only ones of the green guys that ever displayed any kind of nice emotions like sympathy, compassion, kindness that I ever saw.
Martian nights are cold. And because the sun rises and sets almost instantaneously, the temperature changes pretty quick from cold to hot at dawn and back again at dusk. Nights are either really bright if the two moons are up or dark as heck if they aren't. This whole planet was one of extremes. As the green guys idea of advanced lighting technology was pretty much torches and candles, it was good that the moons orbited Mars so fast, otherwise nobody but us Slayers could see at night to find the outhouse.
I woke up at dawn feeling a lot better and ready to do some serious snooping around. There were five sleeping green ladies in the room all wrapped up in furs. The guard creature was still lying across the doorway just like I had seen him the night before. In fact it looked like he hadn't moved a muscle in that whole time. His eyes were moving though and he was watching me like a hawk. I couldn't do much with him watching me so I figured I'd better find out what his orders were. Delay, catch, or kill.
I was pretty sure once I got outside I could get away from him. On Earth I could outrun and out-jump most things that wanted me dead. Here, with the low gravity, I was certain I could leave him in the dust.
I stood up and stretched, only to see my guard get to his ten feet as well. Carefully I moved towards him, shuffling my feet so I wouldn't eat floor again. As I got closer he slowly backed away from me and when I got to the doorway, he kind of sidestepped to let me get by. He then started following me as I went outside keeping a fixed distance behind. So his job was probably just to keep an eye on me then. I could work with that. When we reached the edge of the city he rushed in front of me and growled and flashed that mouth full of extra plenty teeth. I had enough of that so I charged him and just before contact jumped over and landed a good hundred feet away.
He spun around and faster than anything I'd ever seen, was heading for me; stubby legs moving like a blur. He could probably catch me in a straight out run so I turned and charged him again leaping at the last second. By the time he had gotten himself turned around I was already entering the city again and leaping for a fourth story window over looking the valley.
After I pulled myself in I looked down at the baffled creature below just before I was grabbed by some massive paw on the back of my neck. I landed on my back and was looking upside-down at a huge white and hairless apey creature, like if somebody had shaved a yeti, with a mohawk.
This thing looked a lot more human-ish (humany?) than green guy except with the extra set of arms and gorilla looking face. It was also about green guy height, but had muscles on top of its muscles and was currently using a size 22 foot to step on my throat. He gibbered out something that sounded like a Praxo demon with a serious head cold and out of the corner of my eye I saw another one winding up with a stone club to play Buffy-ball with my head.
I watched as that club started its swing and tried wriggling free, but humongous mass and lack of leverage did not make it easy. Then a coughing growl and a ten stubby-legged projectile impacted into the club-swinger, just before the swung club impacted into me.
The one standing on my throat stepped off in surprise which meant I was on my feet before he could change his mind. The next second, I had pitched him head first out the window and had turned to face to the beat-down in progress.
My guard creature had the advantage at first by biting deep into the apey thing's chest with all those teeth and was holding on for dear life. The apey thing was no slouch in wrestling though because it had grabbed my guard creature around the throat with all four hands and was simultaneously trying to strangle it and peel it away.
Remember what I said about the green guys being strong for Mars? Well, these apey things were strong for anywhere. The one standing on my throat could have easily beaten a newbie vamp into a thick greasy paste. Plus, you know, four arms! I mean, is that fair?
Anyway apey was prying off guardy but as guardy's jaws were still locked, apey was also prying off half her (yes it was a her) chest that the jaws were fastened to. The eyes of guardy were starting bulge and even though apey was losing a lot of blood, guardy looked in a lot worse shape. It was time to step in.
I grabbed apey's club and t-balled her skull. At that moment her mate returned looking a little scuffed and severely pissed from his unexpected flying lesson. I cracked my knuckles and faced him.
He was too close for club work so I dropped it and went for a shin kick to his left leg and an elbow to the stomach while ducking under Mister Grabby's four hands of doooom. The eldow was blocked by one of his lower arms, but the kick connected and being not so much with the low center of gravity, he started falling face first into the floor.
What could I do when I saw that oh so punchable face heading towards me, but make with the punching? I got him with a right cross to the chin and a left jab to his stomach. That first one stunned him and the second turned his howls into a nasty coughing fit. While he was lying on the floor doubled up, I picked up the club and practiced my batting stance again.
I heard a low laugh behind me and spun, club readied, to see Sola, Tars, and a bunch of other green guys standing there applauding. What else could I do but take a bow?
Apparently Sola had noticed my disappearing act and had told Tars. He, and some of his crew, had been looking for me when they saw Mister Grabby try and fail to learn to fly and then charge back into the building his flying lesson had started in. They followed him inside wondering what the heck was going on and saw the end of the beat down.
Green guys generally aren't about compassion or chick-flick stuff, but they do appreciate strength, bravery, and general bad-assitude. My 'sakking', the punch out of the green guy the day before, and now this take down of two apey things single-handedly seriously improved my reputation.
Sola had come over to me and was checking to see if I was damaged while Tars and his crew were looking at my guard creature. Just then one of his crew pulled one of his freakishly long pistols and pointed it at the guard creature's head. I was over there like a shot and pulled the gun out of his hand right as it fired. The bullet hit the wall and proceeded to blow a hole about a foot across all the way through it.
I then handed the gun back to its surprised owner and helped guardy to its feet then gestured at it to follow me. The guy whose gun I had 'borrowed' looked at Tars who just shrugged and waved him back. The other green guys shrugged too and Sola, guard creature and slayer returned to the plaza.
I now had two buds on Mars. A strange green woman who reminded me weirdly of mom. And a nasty looking guard creature who was more loyal than almost anybody else on this wacky planet.
After Sola, guardy and I got back to the plaza, it was breakfast time. Tofu and milk-like stuff again. In fact this was my regular meal the entire time I was with the green guys. They really could have used the Iron Chef or even a Doublemeat franchise.
When that was done we went back outside where the whole community was hitching up these elephanty creatures (again with extra sets of legs) to huge three wheeled chariot thingys. There were a couple of hundred of these wagons each pulled by one elephanty thing. In all honesty it looked like one of the creatures could have pulled all the wagons by themselves.
The wagons where large, roomy, and decorated like dictator's brothel. Gold, jewels, silks. On the back of the pulling creature was a green guy as a driver. Like the horsy things the green guy warriors rode, they didn't use reins but guided the elephanty things telepathically.
Apparently this power is the big thing on Mars, and is why the language is so simple and only a few words are spoken even in long conversations. It makes having a universal language simple and all Martian animals have it to some amount.
The circus parade started up and Sola dragged me into an empty wagon. The lead group was a few hundred mounted warriors and about the same followed the line of wagons. On the sides were fifty or so outriders. To my Slayer trained eye, they looked like they were expecting to be ambushed.
Everybody but me. That is every green guy, girl and child, was heavily armed and behind every wagon was a guardy creature like the one that was following around. Our trip took us across the valley in front of the city and backtracked the way I had come her until we were outside the incubator I had woken up next to.
On arrival the wagons were parked around it like some kind of set of rolling walls and a bunch of green guys led by Tars and some others with the same kind of decorations on their leather weapon harnesses, dismounted and walked over to the little building. I could see Tars doing the explanation thing to the Boss whose name by the way was Lorquas Ptormel Jed. Jed meaning chief honcho.
A little bit later Tars called over to Sola and signed for her to send me to him. By this time I was pretty confident of walking in Martian gravity, so I hustled my way over to where Tars' group of green guys stood. I hopped a little in the air to peek inside the incubator and saw that most of the eggs had hatched. The thing was filled with three to four tall little green guys and all were looking for a snack apparently.
As I got to Tars he pointed over the incubator and said, "Sak."
I had my footing by now and as I had begged off the day before I figured I owed them a decent jump so sak I did. I must have cleared two hundred feet horizontally before landing on the other side of the wagons. I jogged back and Lorquas Ptormel grunted something incomprehensible and turning to Tars' green guys gave an order. They started ripping into the side of the incubator and in a short time had torn a hole in its side big enough to let the kids get out.
On both sides of this opening all the women and and youngers green guys and girls formed two solid walls leading out past the wagons and into the plains. The newly hatched kids came streaming out between these barricades and were picked up by various members of the barricade.
Once all of them had been snagged I wandered back over to 'my' wagon and saw Sola with one of the little guys in her lower arms.
It seems that pretty much the whole deal with raising a green guy kid is teaching them how to talk and how to fight. They had been living in those eggs for five years and hatch as midget versions of what they'll become. They'll never know who their mom's are, and their moms would have a pretty hard time telling who was the daddy of their egg. That means all the kids are raised by the community and their learning comes from whatever green girl happens to catch them.
These incubators are placed in the most places the green guys can find so that they won't be found or messed with. The group the green guys I was traveling with belonged to was thirty thousand or so. Most of them lived towards the south, and the only reason I had been found was that the eggs had been due to hatch for this sub-group. I didn't know how long an upcoming trip back to their headquarters I had to look forward to.
Sola now had twice as much work to do with another kid besides me to teach how to be a good green guy citizen. So she taught us both how to speak together. The vocal parts of the Martian language were simple after all and apparently my brief period of being telepath-Buffy made it possible for me to learn the mind reading talking as well. This was good. The other thing was for some reason no one could read my mind at all while I could sometimes intercept other thoughts not directed at me. This was even better.
A couple of days after fetching the kiddies from the incubator, the entire group packed up their stuff and we left the ruined city, heading south.
We had just exited the main gates when an order was given and everybody turned around and headed back in only to vanish into various buildings and alleys. In less than three minutes, there wasn't a wagon, elephanty thing, or green guy on horsy thing to be seen.
Sola and I had headed into the same building where I had beat up apey 1 and apey 2. When we got inside I headed upstairs to see what the deal was. Out over the valley in front of the city was a huge gray ship floating up in the sky. It cruised overhead straight towards the city. Then another one came by and another. There were twenty or so. All had big flags slung from masts or antennas on their tops. On the front was a huge gold painted logo. I could clearly see people running around on the open decks, especially towards the front of the ships.
I don't know whether they had spotted us or Lorquas Ptomel was just annoyed at them, because a few seconds later they were under fire from the scary long rifles all the green guy soldiers carried.
The ship's crews, obviously not being idiots, started returning fire. It looked like one of those old pirate movies with the ships turning so they could fire all their guns at once. The green guy's shooting never slowed down and I bet that seventy percent of their shots hit where they were aiming. I could see individual guys on the ships being picked off neatly and methodically in lines. The flags and antennas and the cabins on top and people just disintegrated when those explosive bullets hit them.
As they had been hit by surprise all their gun sights and gunners were the first things shot at so even though they were flying above the city, their style had been seriously cramped. So they decided to beat feet out of there while pumping as many bullets down into the city as possible to slow up the green guy shootiness.
Twenty minutes later they were heading off towards the direction they first showed up from. A bunch of the ships weren't moving so quick and all of their shooting had stopped. The green guys headed up to the roofs and kept shooting. Finally, all but one of the ships had gotten below a ridge line and out of line of fire of even those freaky rifles. That last ship was swerving around in a big circle back towards the city. I couldn't see anybody alive on deck and it looked like this was the ship that had soaked up most of the bullety attack.
It had also sunk till it was only about fifty feet off the ground and looked like it was going to run into one of the taller buildings. A bunch of green guys hauled butt to get over there and using big hooks on ropes managed to tie it up to the building before going all argh and piraty and boarding it. From my position at the window and with slayer vision I could see them checking the bodies on the decks and disappearing into the ship to loot it probably. A couple of minutes later a group of them had come out dragging somebody. I couldn't get a good look because of inconsiderate tall green guys blocking the view, but the somebody looked a lot closer to my size than theirs.
They hauled their new prisoner into the building and continued looting few for the next several hours. When they were done, the tied big ropes to a lot of the elephanty things and hauled it out into the valley before setting it on fire and cutting it loose to float away on the wind.
Slowly it floated south. Getting higher and higher as the flames burned away away the weight of wood and bodies. It looked like the world's biggest Viking Funeral as it flew away unguided and crewless. I felt pretty bad about the murder and destruction, even though there was nothing I could've done to stop it or slow it down. The green guys were a hard nasty group that were surviving in a hard nasty place on a dying planet. They didn't do nice or kind. More cruel and harsh. In a lot of ways I hoped that the escaping ships would bring in reinforcements to blow them up real good.
I looked up at my guardy creature and told him, "I'm going to get out of here.If you want, you can come with me."
He slobbered a little.
"You need a name though, how about Mr. Gordo?"
He didn't seem to object.
"Okay Mr. Gordo, let's see what's going on."
I left the building with Mr. Gordo following me and soon Sola who had headed out to see what was going on caught up to us. The circus parade to homebase had been canceled and Lorquas Ptomel had decided to hole up in the city for a week or so until he was sure that any crossing of wide open spaces wouldn't get attacked from above. He was a pretty cagey guy which is probably why he was the Jed.
We entered the plaza to head back to our sleeping building when I spotted something. Across the way there was a small figure being escorted by a couple of green ladies.
She was slender, naked except for jewelry like the rest of us, and had coppery red skin and dark black hair. She turned her head and our eyes met. Her face was perfect, like something out of an airbrushed photoshoot. I had never seen anyone so beautiful before.
When she spotted me her eyes opened really wide in shock and she made a weird little gang-sign gesture with her hand and her look of amazement and hope turned to sadness and loathing. I just knew I hadn't made the correct response (or any response really), but how was I supposed to know all the secret handshakes and stuff? Anyway she vanished from sight as she was dragged into the Jed's building.
After that long distance spotting of the new prisoner, I turned back to find Sola staring at me with an odd look on her usually not very expressive face. I couldn't tell what she was thinking at the moment as my language skills still sucked.
We continued to our building where we were met by a green guy carrying an armful of stuff. He stepped up to me and said something in a simultaneously pissed off and respecty tone while handing me the bundle.
The bundle was a mass of jewelry, weapons, and the leather strappy bits the green guys used for holding scabbards and holsters and other things instead of clothes. Sola and the other green girls that were sharing our building fitted me with the smallest bits for my much smaller than green guy body. Soon, with a few pieces of silk to prevent chafing in strategic places, I was wearing what all the fashionable killers on Mars do.
After that Sola taught me how to use the pistol and rifle. My Slayer instincts made me an expert with all the swords, knives, and other blades. And every day I practiced with all the freshly hatched Martian kids on how to use them in the lighter gravity.
The green ladies did all the teaching as well as making the weird glass ammunition the green guy guns used, the guns themselves, and pretty much everything else the green guy hordes didn't take from somebody else. The green guy guys pretty much are all about the fighting and killing. I didn't think it was very fair, because when push comes to shove the green girls will fight too.
I didn't see the other prisoner for quite a few days after that first spotting, and then it was only as she was being hustled into Jed-Guy's throne room. Her guards weren't treating her very well with the punching and kicking. Sola was maternal to me and the green guys were at least respectful of me in comparison.
I had seen during the two times, that she could at least communicate with her guards. That meant a common language, so I buckled down and channeled my inner-tweed to learn basic Martian. It really was a simple language, what with the semi-mind read-y bits, so it really didn't take more than a few more days to be able to have a passable conversation, and to understand what people were trying to tell me.
Our sleeping quarters were currently occupied by a few other green ladies, Sola, the child Sola was teaching, me, Mr. Gordo, and few other hatchlings. After bedtime it was pretty common for the adults to go all gossipy before crashing for the night.Now that I could understand the chat, I made sure to listen as carefully as possible.
A few nights after I had seen the prisoner hauled into the Jed's crash pad, the conversation changed over to her. I hadn't wanted to ask Sola about 'what's the what?' with her, because of the strange expression I had spotted on her face. I couldn't tell whether it was hate or sorrow or whatever, so I had kept quiet till I could figure out Sola's feelings on the sitch.
Sarkoja, one of the older women in the building, had been one of the prisoner's guards during her interview with the Jed, so she was the one targeted with the questions.
"When," asked one of the others, "will we enjoy the death throes of the red one? or does Lorquas Ptomel, Jed, intend holding her for ransom?"
"They have decided to carry her with us back to Thark, and exhibit her last agonies at the great games before Tal Hajus," was Sarkoja's answer.
"What will be the manner of her going out?" Sola asked. "She is very small and very beautiful; I had hoped that they would hold her for ransom."
Sarkoja and the others grumped at this sign of apparent weakness. Like I keep saying, green guys usually aren't known for niceness.
"It is sad, Sola, that you were not born a million years ago," Sarkoja bitchily replied, "when all the hollows of the land were filled with water, and the peoples were as soft as the stuff they sailed upon. In our day we have progressed to a point where such sentiments mark weakness and atavism. It will not be well for you to permit Tars Tarkas to learn that you hold such degenerate sentiments, as I doubt that he would care to entrust such as you with the grave responsibilities of maternity."
"I see nothing wrong with my expression of interest in this red woman," Sola snapped back. "She has never harmed us, nor would she should we have fallen into her hands. It is only the men of her kind who war upon us, and I have ever thought that their attitude toward us is but the reflection of ours toward them. They live at peace with all their fellows, except when duty calls upon them to make war, while we are at peace with none; forever warring among our own kind as well as upon the red men, and even in our own communities the individuals fight amongst themselves. Oh, it is one continual, awful period of bloodshed from the time we break the shell until we gladly embrace the bosom of the river of mystery, the dark and ancient Iss which carries us to an unknown, but at least no more frightful and terrible existence! Fortunate indeed is he who meets his end in an early death. Say what you please to Tars Tarkas, he can mete out no worse fate to me than a continuation of the horrible existence we are forced to lead in this life."
This rant of Sola's surprised the hell out of the other women and after that the conversation pretty much died. I now knew that Sola liked the other prisoner and I counted myself lucky that she was in charge of me instead of one of the others. I was also pretty sure that she would help me and the other prisoner escape if she could. Of course, that was only if escape was even possible.
I really didn't know where I would go if I did escape. I was pretty sure I might get along better with somebody else than staying with the psycho four-armed killing machines. I decided that I'd better have a heart-to heart with Sola and ask her to help me if she could, then I pulled a fur over my head and went to sleep.
I woke up early the next morning as usual. Sola had told me I could pretty much wander where I wanted to as long as I didn't try to leave the city. She also told me that since a lot of these buildings had those anti-social apey creatures hanging out in them, I should probably never go anywhere unarmed.
She had explained that Mr. Gordo was instructed to keep me inside the city and would in fact engage in severe bodily harm producing methods to do it.
"He will keep you from leaving the city and bring you back dead or alive. Preferably dead."
I smiled and nodded and left for my morning stroll. Today I decided to try a new street. Maybe I would get lucky and some of those monkey-boys would try to attack me. I had been wandering for awhile when I found myself at the edge of civilization. In front of me the city's border, and infront of that low rolling hills with narrow hidey-hole holding ravines. I felt a strong urge to go out there and poke around.
Then it occurred to me that this would be a good way to test how much Mr. Gordo was willing to follow his instructions. If worst came to worst I was pretty sure I could take him. Especially now that I was armed. But I really didn't want to hurt him as he was actually kind of sweet in a large nasty sharp teeth killing machine sort of way.
I was also pretty sure that he felt the same way about me; minus the large and nasty sharp teeth bits of course. I had seen more signs of affection from him than anything else on Mars with the exception of Sola of course.
I walked up towards the city/wilderness border and Mr. Gordo jumped in front of me trying to herd me back into the city. His face was more pleading than mean, and he kept his mouth shut hiding those tusks of his and wasn't growling.
He was acting like a really really big dog, so I decided to treat him like one. I sat down on the ground and put my arms as far as they would reach around his big low slung neck and while petting him, told him he was a good doggie in Martian. He responded by wiggling, running around in a circle and growling in a much more playful tone. He then rolled over on to his back so I had to rub his tummy. All in all he was acting just like any other puppy that's found a human who will play with it. I couldn't help but start laughing which scared the crap out of Mr. Gordo. Then I remembered that laughter to the green guys meant torture and death, so I stopped and started rubbing his belly some more and telling him I was sorry I spooked him.
After rubbing his head and neck for awhile until he mellowed out, I stood up and telling him to follow me, walked out into the hills. He rose and ten-legged trundled after me; no problem at all.
After that he was definitely 'My Dog'. Nobody else's. My walk didn't take very long because there really wasn't a whole lot out there except some pretty flowers and beyond the hills, a mountain range stretching away out past the plains.
This morning's stroll had been important because now even though I theoretically was still a prisoner. I could get away at any time with the help of my ten-legged prison guard. I thought that it would be a good idea to keep the subject of Mr. Gordo's defection to Team Buffy a secret until I was ready to hit the road. If the green guys suspected they had a traitorous guard dog in their employ, it would be bad for me and worse for Mr. Gordo.
When I got back to the plaza I spotted the prisoner for the third time.She was near the entrance to Lorquas Ptomel's place, surrounded by guards as usual. As I walked towards them she gave me a seriously Cordelia-like glare and turned her back on me. I smiled as it felt like at least someone on this planet had the same kinds of shallow emotions as us silly humans.
If one of the green ladies had wanted to show contempt, they probably would try to skewer you with a sword or simply blow your head off with a pistol or rifle. But they were all so thick-skinned and survival focused they actually wouldn't even bother and were more likely to simply ignore who- or whatever annoyed them. Sola, I've got to say, was the exception on this again. She was always nice to me and I never saw her do anything cruel or mean.
As Madam Prisoner was the center of attention, I decided to hang out and watch for awhile. A few minutes later Big Cheese Lorquas, and his posse showed up, and signaling her guards, gestured them to bring her inside. Knowing that Lorquas was at least amused by me, I decided to go in as well and see what Judge Jeddy had planned.
His posse were sitting on the edge of his throne platform with Madam Prisoner and her two guards(one of which was Sarkoja) standing in front of them.
Sarkoja was being bitchy as usual. She grabbed Madam Prisoner's arm as nastily as possible and I could see nice sets of bruises forming on that coppery skin. She also seemed to like flinging her around like a rag doll. I was going to enjoy beating the crap out of her.
At least the other guard looked pretty bored and indifferent. Compared to Sarkoja that was a definite check in the Plus column.
As the Boss was about to speak, he spotted me and glanced over at Tars with an annoyed expression. Tars said something too quietly for even my ears to catch.Whatever it was, it made the Boss give a scary grin and then ignore me.
"What is your name?" the Boss asked her.
"Dejah Thoris, daughter of Mors Kajak of Helium."
"And the nature of your expedition?" he continued.
"It was a purely scientific research party sent out by my father's father, the Jeddak of Helium, to rechart the air currents, and to take atmospheric density tests," she answered, in a low, really pretty voice.
"We were unprepared for battle, as we were on a peaceful mission, as our banners and the colors of our craft denoted. The work we were doing was as much in your interests as in ours, for you know full well that were it not for our labors and the fruits of our scientific operations there would not be enough air or water on Mars to support a single human life. For ages we have maintained the air and water supply at practically the same point without an appreciable loss, and we have done this in the face of the brutal and ignorant interference of your green men.
"Why, oh, why will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows, must you ever go on down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you! A people without written language, without art, without homes, without love; the victim of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common. You hate each other as you hate all else except yourselves. Come back to the ways of our common ancestors, come back to the light of kindliness and fellowship. The way is open to you, you will find the hands of the red men stretched out to aid you. Together we may do still more to regenerate our dying planet. The granddaughter of the greatest and mightiest of the red jeddaks has asked you. Will you come?"
Quite frankly she spoke like a tweed addict, but I wasn't going to hold that against her.
The Big Cheese and posse were quiet for a bit. I had no idea what was passing through there heads. But knowing guys, it was either sports, sex, or lunch. Or maybe even possibly what she was talking about. Because, this world was dying. Even the dumb blond in the room could see that. And what this Princess Dejah was talking about made sense.
I saw Tars rise to speak a look of concentration and concern on his face. As he we about to open his mouth, one of the younger punks in the posse jumped down and backhanded the Princess across the face. Sarkoja immediately dropped to number two on the Buffy Beat Down's to be Issued List. This guy was now number one with a bullet.
He stood on her now face-planted body and turning towards the Boss and posse started laughing. It looked like Tars was going to deliver the smack and even the Big Cheese didn't look completely enthused at the action, but the mood passed and the majority of the posse started to smile. No laughing though.
While he was doing the laughy thing, I was moving like a bat out of hell. He was at least twelve feet tall and armed to the teeth. Good, he needed all the help he could get. First a flying sidekick to the jaw. His reflexes were pretty good as he actually managed to turn his head in time to keep his teeth.
He drew his short sword as he stumbled back. I didn't bother yet. I just clambered up and hooking my leg over one of his holstered pistols, clung like a Buffy-shaped leech while punching him as hard as I could in the chest and face. He really couldn't use his sword because I was well within his swinging range. He really couldn't use his pistol either, because A) I was sitting on it with a death grip, and B) It's against green guy Queensberry rules to use a weapon more powerful than what you're attacked with during personal combat (Though 'B' wasn't as critical in his mind because he did "try" to draw it). All he could really do was try to peel me off, and seeing as despite his size and bulk he wasn't much stronger than your typical vamp. That trick was not going to work on me. Finally I took his silly sword away from him and slit his throat as I jumped away.
Dejah Thoris had rolled over and was watching the carnage with pretty wide eyes. When I had rolled back to my feet from my landing. I walked over in the silent room and picking her up, carried her over to a bench so she could take five.
Nobody messed with me as I tore a piece of silk off my cloak and pressed it against her nose to help stop the bleeding. When the nosebleed stopped, she put her hand on my arm and said:
"Why did you do it? You who refused me even friendly recognition in the first hour of my peril! And now you risk your life and kill one of your companions for my sake. I cannot understand. What strange manner of man are you, that you consort with the green men, though your form is that of my race, while your color is little darker than that of the white ape? Tell me, are you a woman, or are you more than woman?"
"It's a long and weird story. I don't think we're going to have time to chat though," I glanced around at the still unmoving green guys. "Let's just say that I'm a friend and a prisoner here too, and I will do my best to protect you."
"Then you too are a prisoner? But why, then, those arms and the regalia of a Tharkian chieftain? What is your name? Where your country?"
"Yup. I'm a prisoner too. I'm Buffy Summers and I'm from a place a long ways off called California. Why I'm allowed to carry weapons and wear gear with posse markings on it I don't really know."
Then a green guy came up to me carrying more gear and in a sec I glanced over at the naked body of the ex-number one with a bullet. It looked like you kill a guy one on one you get his stuff. It made sense with this kind of society, and that also meant that the guy I had decked on the first day had croaked too. Ewww.
I also now knew why the green guys were treating me with mostly kid gloves. Someone my size had taken out a Thark warrior with one punch. I got his gear and his title which meant pretty much that I was a member of the posse.
By this time Tars and some more posse members had pushed their way up. Tars looked at me in a fairly puzzled way and started talking.
"You speak the tongue of Barsoom quite readily for one who was deaf and dumb to us a few short days ago. Where did you learn it, Buffy Summers?"
"Sola's a good teacher. So it was your decision to have her educate me, Tars Tarkus."
"She has done well," he answered, "but your education in other respects needs considerable polish. Do you know what your unprecedented temerity would have cost you had you failed to kill either of the two chieftains whose metal you now wear?"
"No. I don't lose."
"Only in the last extremity of self-defense would a Martian warrior kill a prisoner; we like to save them for other purposes," I gulped a little. Even I couldn't take out an entire room full of these guys.
"But one thing can save you now," he kept going. "Should you, in recognition of your remarkable valor, ferocity, and prowess, be considered by Tal Hajus as worthy of his service you may be taken into the community and become a full-fledged Tharkian. Until we reach the headquarters of Tal Hajus it is the will of Lorquas Ptomel that you be accorded the respect your acts have earned you. You will be treated by us as a Tharkian chieftain, but you must not forget that every chief who ranks you is responsible for your safe delivery to our mighty and most ferocious ruler. I am done."
"I got you Tars Tarkus. I'm not from around here and I don't do things in the same way as most people. Even when I was back home, I acted according to my conscience and the standards I grew up with. Not to what was expected of me. You leave me alone and I will not keep reducing your population one idiot at a time. But if somebody starts something with me, I will finish it. Oh, and more thing. This woman is under my protection. You guys may think being nice is weak and useless, but I'm pretty sure I can persuade anybody that thinks I'm either that I'm not. Got it?"
Tars seemed pleased and made a weird comment, "And I think I know Tal Hajus, Jeddak of Thark."
I turned back to Dejah and after helping her to her feet headed towards the exit, ignoring Sarkoja and buddy and pretty much everybody else. I was on the posse so I had better take a posse member's responsibilities right? The rest didn't bother us and so Princess Dejah and I, followed by the loyal Mr. Gordo, left the building.
As we got to the plaza, the two female guards (Sarkoja and bored-face)who had been watching Dejah tried to take charge.Dejah edged closer to me and grabbed my arm with both hands. It was time to pull rank.
"Sorry ladies. I Chieftain Buffy have charge of this prisoner. If you have any complaints, especially you Sarkoja; Please take them up with either Tars Tarkus or the Jed," I kept on moving forward with Dejah sticking close.
After I had located Sola, I asked her to help keep an eye on Dejah and that she should find a Sarkoja-free place for us to live.
Sola eyed the loot I had just gotten for taking out that obnoxious princess-beating green guy.
"You are a great chieftain now, Buffy Summers," she said, "and I must do your bidding, though indeed I am glad to do it under any circumstances. The one whose metal you carry was young, but he was a great warrior, and had by his promotions and kills won his way close to the rank of Tars Tarkas, who, as you know, is second to Lorquas Ptomel only. You are eleventh, there are but ten chieftains in this community who rank you in prowess."
"And if I should happen to damage Lorquas Ptomel?"
"You would be first,Buffy Summers; but you may only win that honor by the will of the entire council that Lorquas Ptomel meet you in combat, or should he attack you, you may kill him in self-defense, and thus win first place."
I smiled and rolled my eyes. I didn't particularly want to kill anybody actually and really didn't want to be a jed of the Tharks.
The three of us (plus Mr. Gordo of course) went apartment hunting. We found a nice set of rooms in a building that looked like it was decorated by a deranged Broadway set designer with a fetish for gilding. I loved it.
Inside there were inlays on the walls of people looking a lot like me and Dejah wearing flowey robes. Dejah looked really pleased when she saw them.
We decided to use the room with the inlay, which was on the second floor and looked out over the plaza, as our bedroom and the room next to it for supplies. Sola took off to grab our stuff from our old quarters, while I stayed behind to keep an eye on Dejah.
As Sola left, Dejah turned to me with a faintish smile.
"And whereto, then, would your prisoner escape should you leave her, unless it was to follow you and crave your protection, and ask your pardon for the cruel thoughts she has harbored against you these past few days?"
"You're right of course. Neither one of us is getting out of here unless we go together."
"I heard your challenge to the creature you call Tars Tarkas, and I think I understand your position among these people, but what I cannot fathom is your statement that you are not of Barsoom."
"In the name of my first ancestor, then," she continued, "where may you be from? You are like unto my people, and yet so unlike. You speak my language, and yet I heard you tell Tars Tarkas that you had but learned it recently. All Barsoomians speak the same tongue from the ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages differ. Only in the valley Dor, where the river Iss empties into the lost sea of Korus, is there supposed to be a different language spoken, and, except in the legends of our ancestors, there is no record of a Barsoomian returning up the river Iss, from the shores of Korus in the valley of Dor. Do not tell me that you have thus returned! They would kill you horribly anywhere upon the surface of Barsoom if that were true; tell me it is not!"
She had a strange look in her eyes and her voice was all pleady. She had placed her hands on my chest. Not in that way, but more like she wanted to make sure I was real and telling the truth.
"I don't know how your people do things, Dejah Thoris, but I'm from California, and I have absolutely no reason to lie to you. I don't have the faintest clue what Dor or Iss are, and the lost sea of Korus is definitely still lost to me at least. Do you believe me?"
And then I realized that it was staggeringly important to me that she believed me. It wasn't that I was worried about what people thought about me returning from heaven or hell or Oxnard or something. Why did it matter to me what she thought? Then I looked at her and her beautiful eyes and I suddenly realized what Willow had seen in Tara.
Judging from the way she stiffened as well, she seemed to be going through the same thoughts. She stepped away from me and with a very earnest expression said, "I believe you, Buffy Summers; I have never heard before of California; but on Barsoom no one lies; if he does not wish to speak the truth he is silent. Where is this California, your country, Buffy Summers?"
"I'm from a world called Earth, third from the Sun. I have no idea how I got here, but seeing as I met you the way doesn't really matter."
She kept looking at me, "I shall have to believe even though I cannot understand. I can readily perceive that you are not of the Barsoom of today; you are like us, yet different--but why should I trouble myself with such a problem, when my heart tells me that I believe because I wish to believe!"
It sounded suspiciously like my style of trademarked Buffy-logic so I really couldn't argue with it. We then started exchanging info on each others worlds. She knew a heck of a lot about Earth already though so I asked her how she had picked up the data.
"Why, every child on Barsoom knows the geography, and much concerning the fauna and flora, as well as the history of your planet fully as well as of his own. Can we not see everything which takes place upon Earth, as you call it; is it not hanging there in the heavens in plain sight?"
Apparently, the red guys have telescopes that make the Hubble look like a toy. "So why didn't you realize I was from Earth then if you've seen my peeps?"
She smiled again and looked like a Watcher describing how a vamp hunts.
"Because, Buffy Summers, nearly every planet and star having atmospheric conditions at all approaching those of Barsoom, shows forms of animal life almost identical with you and me; and, further, Earth dwellers, almost without exception, cover their bodies with strange, unsightly pieces of cloth, and their heads with hideous contraptions the purpose of which we have been unable to conceive; while you, when found by the Tharkian warriors, were entirely undisfigured and unadorned.
"The fact that you wore no ornaments is a strong proof of your un-Barsoomian origin, while the absence of grotesque coverings might cause a doubt as to your earthliness."
I then told here how I had fallen from a great height on Earth and instead of dying, found myself naked on the Martian plains. By this time Sola and her hatchling had arrived along with our stuff. It was obvious that having four arms is great when you have to carry a couple of baskets without making two trips.
Sola asked if we had had visitor while she was gone. I told her no and she looked puzzled.
"I saw Sarkoja coming down the stairs as we were entering, Buffy Summers.
"She must have been eavesdropping. I really don't think she likes any of us very much."
The rest of the afternoon was Dejah and I exploring the building and her describing the history of Mars, the drying up of the oceans, and the merging of the three great tribes. I could transcribe that all down, but Slayer stamina does not protect against writer's cramp or boredom.
When we were done and heading back to our rooms, a messenger from the Big Cheese arrived saying that he wanted to see me now. I told Sola and Dejah what was up, ordered Mr. Gordo to bite Sarkoja if she reappeared, and hauled butt to see the Jed in his throne room.
I walked in and bowed to Lorquas Ptomel, Big Cheese extrordinaire. He stared at me with those scary eyes of his and waved me forward.
"You have been with us a few days, yet during that time you have by your prowess won a high position among us. Be that as it may, you are not one of us; you owe us no allegiance.
"Your position is a peculiar one. You are a prisoner and yet you give commands which must be obeyed; you are an alien and yet you are a Tharkian chieftain; you are a midget..."
"Hey!" I shut up at Tars' and the Jed's dirty looks.
"You are a midget..."he waited to see if I would respond again,"...and yet you can kill a mighty warrior with one blow of your fist. And now you are reported to have been plotting to escape with another prisoner of another race; a prisoner who, from her own admission, half believes you are returned from the valley of Dor. Either one of these accusations, if proved, would be sufficient grounds for your execution, but we are a just people and you shall have a trial on our return to Thark, if Tal Hajus so commands.
"But, if you run off with the red girl it is I who shall have to account to Tal Hajus; it is I who shall have to face Tars Tarkas, and either demonstrate my right to command, or the metal from my dead carcass will go to a better man, for such is the custom of the Tharks.
"I have no quarrel with Tars Tarkas; together we rule supreme the greatest of the lesser communities among the green men; we do not wish to fight between ourselves; and so if you were dead, Buffy Summers, I should be glad. Under two conditions only, however, may you be killed by us without orders from Tal Hajus; in personal combat in self-defense, should you attack one of us, or were you apprehended in an attempt to escape.
"As a matter of justice I must warn you that we only await one of these two excuses for ridding ourselves of so great a responsibility. The safe delivery of the red girl to Tal Hajus is of the greatest importance. Not in a thousand years have the Tharks made such a capture; she is the granddaughter of the greatest of the red jeddaks, who is also our bitterest enemy. I have spoken. The red girl told us that we were without the softer sentiments of humanity, but we are a just and truthful race. You may go."
I turned and scooted out before he decided to keep going. He was about as long-winded as the Master and just as much about the plotting. Sarkoja was the one who had had to have told him. As she was now at the top of the list again, that was fine with me. The only problem was she was Tars' main squeeze, which meant she could probably influence him more than a little bit. As Tars was the number two big cheese here, that influence could be hazardous to Buffy and Princess health.
So now I had two goals. Crush Sarkoja like a bug, and get the heck out of Dodge with Dejah. I just had to be sneakier. From the sounds of it, if Dejah got hauled in front of the Biggest Cheese, Tal Hajus, she was probably not going to enjoy it very much. Sola had told me that the Biggest Cheese took pride in the skill and duration of his torturing. So no, Dejah was not going to be in front of him if I could do anything about it.
I was wandering back to the apartment, scheming away like a madwoman on how to get out of here without being chased down and simply slaughtered, when Tars walked over to me.
"Where are your quarters Buffy Summers?"
I'm staying with Sola in the building over there," I pointed.
"That won't do. You are a minor Jed. Come with me," we walked across the plaza to a building next to the one that Sola and Dejah were in.
"My quarters are on the first floor of this building, and the second floor also is fully occupied by warriors, but the third floor and the floors above are vacant; you may take your choice of these.
"I understand, that you have given up your woman to the red prisoner. Well, as you have said, your ways are not our ways, but you can fight well enough to do about as you please, and so, if you wish to give your woman to a captive, it is your own affair; but as a chieftain you should have those to serve you, and in accordance with our customs you may select any or all the females from the retinues of the chieftains whose metal you now wear."
"Thanks Tars Tarkus, but that really won't be necessary."
"But who will cook for you, maintain your weapons, prepare your ammunition?"
"Sola's shown me how to do all that so I'll be fine. What I could use though is some furs though. It does get chilly at night."
He shrugged and nodded, "Certainly Buffy Summers. You have gained a great trove by your success in combat. I will have them sent over right away," he turned and left me standing in front of the barracks.
Going inside I went up the stairs till I got to the vacant third floor. I chose a room on the front of the building so I could keep an eye on who came and went from Sola and Dejah's apartment and also the Big Cheese's place.
I found a good bedroom with a private bath in which the water still flowed even though it was stupid cold. Next to it were a couple of storerooms and some other rooms like a kitchen and living room I thought.
There was a knock at the door and a stream of green girls came in hauling a ton of stuff. Furs, utensils, food, jewels, weapons. Apparently these were all the worldly goods I had inherited from the two green guys.
I told them to stick it all in one of the storerooms and then they left and came back with a second load! Along with about twenty or so green girls and kids who were the two guys' households.
I was stuck with them apparently, so I told them to find quarters on the fourth floor and to do what they did previously. After that point I really didn't see much of them and that was cool with me.
Like I had said, after the shootiness with the red guy ships, we stayed put in the city until the Big Cheese thought it was safe to make a break for home. I could understand that. Defending a wagon train the size of the one I had seen would have been pretty close to impossible if the red guys had launched another fleet at it.
So in this down time I had met a Princess, killed another Chief, learned Conversational Martian, and tamed a calot (that's what breed Mr. Gordo was). Tars didn't think I needed any free time so he started teaching me how to ride the green guys' horsy things (they called them thoats). Think of them as a carnivorous Clydesdale, with the temper of a ticked off rhino.
I had inherited two of these also, so Combat-Buffy had to become Equestrian-Buffy. The green guy style of training them was just as sociopathic as everything else they did. The usual way they were controlled was by telepathic command. If the thoat didn't obey, the next step was to unholster your pistol and smack it between the ears with the pistol butt. If they ignored that it was repeated until either the thoat obeyed, was unconscious (didn't happen very often, thoats are tough), or had bucked the rider off. If the rider was bucked off, they now were facing a extremely pissed off thoat which got really exciting really fast, and was generally fatal for at least one of the two (And not always the thoat. Did I mention they're tough even against a green guy with a gun?).
My work with Mr. Gordo convinced me that the Thoat Whisperer method might be a little safer and healthier for both me and the thoats. If they tried to buck me off, I just held on tight until they got tired or bored. If they tried to bite me, I held their mouth closed and rapped them on the nose. I also scratched them between the shoulder blades and got them the Martian equivalent of carrots which they loved. Pretty soon they were happy non-Buffy-hating thoats which was fine with me.
Tars had watched me working with them and eventually came over to chat.
"How have you bewitched them?" he asked me this after he had seen me basically climb inside Skippy's mouth to pull out a stone that had gotten stuck between two molars.
I told him I was nice and careful, and showed him how I treated them. He called the Big Cheese and posse over and had me explain again. The Cheese thought this was a darn good idea apparently because he ordered the posse to do start doing the same. I'm sure the poor thoats appreciated it too.
Eventually we started up on the march south to Thark again. Lorquas Ptomel having decided that if the red guys hadn't attacked by now, they probably weren't going to.
Leaving the city was a mass of confusion and a lot of rushing around to make sure nobody had forgotten anything. That plus everything plus thoat whispering had kept me so busy, I hadn't had a chance to see Dejah and Sola. Finally though I spotted them walking done an avenue the night before we were supposed to take off. Mr. Gordo was doing his guard-calot best to keep them safe. I ran over and told Sola I'd walk Dejah home if she had anything she needed to take care before we left. She smiled and nodded and left us.
She looked over at me, "Sarkoja told Sola that you had become a true Thark, and that I would now see no more of you than of any of the other warriors."
"Sarkoja is a four-armed weasel missing the whiskers and tail. And also pretty much a lying skank, even with the Thark rep for absolute truthfulness."
Dejah laughed, "I didn't understand half of what you said, but I'm sure Sarkoja would be truly annoyed with an accurate translation."
"I'd think so Dejah Thoris. Actually I really hope so."
"I knew that even though you became a member of the community you would not cease to be my friend; 'A warrior may change his metal, but not his heart,' as the saying is upon Barsoom."
"I think they've been trying to keep us separated Buffy Summers, for whenever you have been off duty one of the older women of Tars Tarkas' retinue has always arranged to trump up some excuse to get Sola and me out of sight. They have had me down in the pits below the buildings helping them mix their awful radium powder, and make their terrible projectiles. You know that these have to be manufactured by artificial light, as exposure to sunlight always results in an explosion. You have noticed that their bullets explode when they strike an object? Well, the opaque, outer coating is broken by the impact, exposing a glass cylinder, almost solid, in the forward end of which is a minute particle of radium powder. The moment the sunlight, even though diffused, strikes this powder it explodes with a violence which nothing can withstand. If you ever witness a night battle you will note the absence of these explosions, while the morning following the battle will be filled at sunrise with the sharp detonations of exploding missiles fired the preceding night. As a rule, however, non-exploding projectiles are used at night."
I was wondering that instead of Equestrian-Buffy, I was going to turn into Chernobyl-Buffy at that info. The big problem though was that the fact that the warriors usually resided separately from the women. As I was both, I fell into the typically murky area of rules and regulations I usually live in on both Earth and Mars. I really didn't want Dejah to suffer radiation poisoning and unless I did something she had a good chance of looking like an atomic mutant.
"Have they been cruel Dejah?"
"Only in little ways, Buffy Summers," she answered. "Nothing that can harm me outside my pride. They know that I am the daughter of ten thousand jeddaks, that I trace my ancestry straight back without a break to the builder of the first great waterway, and they, who do not even know their own mothers, are jealous of me. At heart they hate their horrid fates, and so wreak their poor spite on me who stand for everything they have not, and for all they most crave and never can attain. Let us pity them, my chieftain, for even though we die at their hands we can afford them pity, since we are greater than they and they know it."
If I had known what 'my chieftain' meant as applied by a red woman, I probably would have been more than a little surprised.
"Well Dejah, they had better hope that I don't catch them being mean to you. or I'll kick their butts all the way off this planet my princess."
She stumbled a little and looked at me with a really odd expression.
"What a child! A great warrior and yet a stumbling little child."
"What did I do now?" I really wasn't sure.
"Some day you shall know, Buffy Summers, if we live; but I may not tell you. And I, the daughter of Mors Kajak, son of Tardos Mors, have listened without anger."
She laughed again.
"So what's so funny?"
"I cannot say at this moment. No, it is enough that you have said it and that I have listened. And when you learn, Buffy Summers, and if I be dead, as likely I shall be ere the further moon has circled Barsoom another twelve times, remember that I listened and that I--smiled."
I groaned and begged her to let me in on the secret, but she wasn't talking.
Night had fallen and the only sounds were the faint noises of packing green guys echoing through the streets of this dead city. If you ignored those, it was like were absolutely alone.
It was getting cold so I put my cloak around her shoulders. My bare arm touched her bare shoulder for a second.
I once asked Willow how she knew Tara was the one. She shrugged and said, "I just knew."
I now understood what she meant.
I could do what I usually do in these sort of sitches. Mope and pine and wish that the other person would notice me. Of course that had led to problems in the past and it was better to get her side quickly, but...I wasn't really sure how her culture would look at something like this. I mean on Earth, at least my part of it, it was mostly okay. As long as you didn't run into any idiots at least. Here, I had not a clue. The discussion of same-sex relationships in the red guys society not being really high on the green guy warrior training curriculum.
The heck with it, better to get rejected now than fall in Buffy mope mode.
"Uh, Dejah? It's getting late we'd probably better be getting back to get some sleep."
"No, I am happy here. I do not know why it is that I should always be happy and contented when you, Buffy Summers, a stranger, are with me; yet at such times it seems that I am safe and that, with you, I shall soon return to my father's court and feel his strong arms about me and my mother's tears and kisses on my cheek."
"So you do the kissing thing on Mars?"
"Parents, brothers, and sisters, yes; and," she added quietly, "lovers."
"And you have a mom and dad and brothers and/or sisters?"
"Do you have a hunk in your life?"
She laughed, "What an odd term. Much like a piece of metal or gemstone. Hunk. Blocky, well shaped, and not too bright I would gather?"
"Close enough Dejah," I smiled.
"No...not as such. But to pry further would be impolite Buffy Summers. Even for a great warrior and friend such as yourself. Perhaps you will be better informed when once we arrive in my home city of Helium."
"Works for me. Dejah, we'd better get back though. We have an early start tomorrow."
She nodded finally after standing still for a couple of eternities, and we started the walk back to the plaza, with her describing the constellations that spun above in their Martian terms.
When we parted company at the place she shared with Sola, I headed back to my apartment after telling Mr.Gordo to keep an eye on her. I climbed the stairs and collapsed with a thud on my silk and fur nest of a bed. So this was love. I had thought I had it with Angel and maybe I had something like it, but it wasn't as electric, as instant, as all-consuming; as what I felt right now.
All my nerves were buzzing and I wanted to scream or dance or fight. Anything to burn off the energy I was feeling pushing through my body. And as usual I could never fall in love with someone normal. The object of my affection had hatched from an egg and could live a thousand years. Still, weird is my life and I'll be damned if I didn't try to make this work.
Dejah Thoris was beautiful, smart, and tough as heck. If anybody, on any world, was worth fighting for, it was her.
Morning showed up finally and I was well rested surprisingly. It was clear and hot as usual.
I looked for Dejah outside and spotted her standing on one of the wagons. Walking over to make sure she was comfortable I was starting to rearrange her furs when I spotted the heavy chain manacling her ankle to the side of the wagon.
"Sola! What the hell is going on here?"
"Sarkoja thought it best," she didn't look very pleased when she said that.
"Yeah I bet. Where's the key?"
"Sarkoja has it Buffy Summers."
"Oh really? I'll be right back."
I went looking for Sarkoja but ran into Tars first.
"Tars Tarkus, what's with the Princess being chained down like an animal?"
"Buffy Summers, if ever you and Dejah Thoris escape the Tharks it will be upon this journey. We know that you will not go without her. You have shown yourself a mighty fighter, and we do not wish to manacle you, so we hold you both in the easiest way that will yet ensure security. I have spoken."
"Yeah, that makes sense for you guys. But at least can you get the key from Sarkoja and give it to someone else? Oh, tell Sarkoja to stay clear of the Princess and Sola?"
"That is a reasonable request Buffy Summers, . I shall direct that Sarkoja cease to annoy the girl, and I myself will take the custody of the key."
"Unless you want me to hold it..." I smiled and looked innocent.
He gave me a long look, "Were you to give me your word that neither you nor Dejah Thoris would attempt to escape until after we have safely reached the court of Tal Hajus you might have the key and throw the chains into the river Iss."
"Maybe you should hold on to it then."
He smiled at that, and we parted company. That night as we made camp I saw him unlock Dejah's ankle cuff.
So the green guy had a heart? Interesting.
As I headed back to tell Dejah and Sola the news, I passed Sarkoja and she gave a me look Cordelia and the Cordettes would have been proud of. It was a gaze of pure hatred and it felt great.
A little while later I saw her talking to an unranked warrior named Zad. So she was recruiting muscle to squish me? I tried to remember what I'd heard about him. Big, strong, vicious (like all the green guys). Didn't have a second name yet due to lack of whacking one of the lower chieftains (I had earned two, Dotar and Sojat from the pair I had taken out).
Camp broke up at dawn the next morning and continued heading south. A couple of things broke up the march. First we spotted an incubator and the Big Cheese told Tars to grab a bunch of warriors (me included) and check it out.
Tars jumped off his thoat when he got there and started examining it I peeked in and saw the eggs were really small.
"The cement is barely dry," Tars called up, "They cannot be a day's march ahead of us!"
The rest of the green guys dismounted and proceeded to demolish the incubator. I asked Tars what the reason was.
"It belongs to the Warhoon, Buffy Summers. There is barely enough on Barsoom to allow Tharks to survive let alone another tribe. That is why the incubator we found you beside was secluded in such a remote locale. If one of the other Green Tribes had found it, they would have done the same as what we now do."
Shortly after they had smashed the Warhoon incubator the Big Cheese called a halt to check out the wagon wheels and rest the animals. That's when part two of interesting events for Buffys occurred.
I was switching saddles from one of my thoats to the other when Zad walked over and smacked my thoat with his long sword. I spun to face him. According to green guy rules I could only use weapons equal to or smaller than the one he challenged me with. That meant no pistol, spear, or rifle. But long sword, short sword dagger, hatchet, or fists were fair. I grinned.
I unslung my long sword from my back scabbard. I say long sword, but it was closer to a claymore for me due to the difference of green guy and Buffy scales of measurement. I chose it because I had asked around and found out that it was his favorite weapon and he thought he was an expert with it. I needed a good workout so I took my time. In fact the fight held up the trip for almost an hour, and by the end everybody in the community was watching it.
First Zad vs. Buffy tactic: Charge like a maniac and be surprised when the target sidesteps and stars carving a lovely decorative pattern on your smelly green butt with the tip of her sword. Repeat until a pretty flower is now decorating your backside. Wonder why everybody is laughing. Second Zad vs. Buffy tactic: Start using your head instead of raw strength and mass. He really was a magnificent swordsman and with four arms he could switch off two and one handed grips almost at will. Any human but a Slayer would probably have been shishkabobbed, unless they were a god among fencers.
We fought for quite awhile. I had to use a two-handed style due to the size of my blade, but he still was tiring out faster. Finally Third Zad vs. Buffy tactic: Leap in and squish after a series of really pretty parries and ripostes. I raised my sword to parry and was suddenly blinded by a bright flash of light. I rolled to one side and felt that huge blade cut into my shoulder instead of running me through. I was pretty sure I knew what had happened. After my vision cleared, I scanned the crowd looking for Sarkoja. When I spotted her she was in a serious brawl with Dejah. Dejah had just smacked a mirror out of Sarkoja's lower left arm and was going fist city on the larger green lady's face. Sarkoja in response pulled a blade and was about to bisect the princess when Sola jumped between them and took the dagger strike.
I wanted to head over, but Zad had returned to tactic two and was pouring on the heat so I was a little occupied. Unfortunately my head wasn't in the game anymore. That's when he snuck the tip of his sword through my guard.
I felt the sharp pointiness on my chest, and in one nasty thrust he was about to skewer me. There was no way I was going to die alone to this idiot, so I ran up his blade; feeling it go all the way through as I moved forward with my sword aimed straight at his neck. I felt it enter his throat and saw him start gasping before I blacked out.
I work up slumped over Zad's corpse. His sword had missed anything instantly lethal and as I had learned from experience; almost anything that doesn't immediately kill me is counted as a win. I staggered upright and carefully pulled his sword out of my chest. I could feel the skin on my back puckering as I pulled, so he must have run me through. Yay me? I only coughed up a little blood so he hadn't hit a lung at least. Yeah this was a win.
Zad didn't look so good as my final lunge had Pez dispensered him kind of permanently. Sarkoja needed better minions and I planned on telling her that ASAP. I knd of staggered my way over to the wagon that had my 'household' riding on it after picking up my sword. The green ladies that I had inherited got to work on me immediately. Death really doesn't have a chance if it doesn't kill you flat out on Mars. They have stuff that will heal some unbelievably nasty wounds without even scarring. That plus Slayer healing and I was pretty sure I'd be up and fight-worthy in a few hours, the next day at the latest. After the bandagey stuff was done I headed over to where I saw the brawl with Sola, Dejah, and Sarkoja. Sola was also doing the bandage on chest look , but was otherwise in good shape.
I saw Dejah was huddled in a lump crying, so I asked Sola what was the what? Was she injured?
"No, she thinks you're dead."
"Do I really look like that feeble a fighter? I have to work out more. That idiot should never have touched me."
"Tears are a strange sight upon Barsoom," she continued, "and so it is difficult for me to interpret them. I have seen but two people weep in all my life, other than Dejah Thoris; one wept from sorrow, the other from baffled rage. The first was my mother, years ago before they killed her; the other was Sarkoja, when they dragged her from me today."
"Your mom! Sola, I thought you guys never knew who your mom is."
"I did. And my father also. If you would like to hear the strange and un-Barsoomian story come to the chariot tonight, Buffy Summers, and I will tell you that of which I have never spoken in all my life before. And now the signal has been given to resume the march, you must go."
"I'll be there with bells or at least bell-like objects on. Make sure you tell Dejah I'm not dead. Okay? Oh and don't tell her I saw her crying."
"Of course Buffy Summers."
With that Sola climbed on to the wagon and I remounted my thoat after making sure that Zad hadn't hurt the poor creature. I then hauled butt to catch up with Tars' section of the caravan.
The caravan was insane. Two-hundred and fifty of the chariot-wagons with fifty extra of the elephanty zitidars. Close to three hundred mounted riders in formation and about five or six hundred extra thoats owned by the warriors. There was gold, and jewels, and silk and furs and feathers. It looked like the world's largest circus parade. Maybe for the Circus of Death, but a circus just the same.
The really weird part was just how quiet it was. The trail we were going over was covered with that spongemoss which did a good job of soaking up the noise, plus thoats and zitidars don't have hooves so there was none of that cloppety business either.
So there we were crossing a dead sea bottom on a dying world as silent as the ghosts of a spectacular past. Like I said, weird.
The night's campground was at the foot of the hills we had been heading towards and probably would have been the shoreline of this particular ex-sea. After dinner I looked for Sola who I spotted working on one of Tars' rifles. She smiled as she saw me.
"I am glad you came," she said; "Dejah Thoris sleeps and I am lonely. Mine own people do not care for me, Buffy Summers; I am too unlike them. It is a sad fate, since I must live my life amongst them, and I often wish that I were a true green Martian woman, without love and without hope; but I have known love and so I am lost.
"I promised to tell you my story, or rather the story of my parents. From what I have learned of you and the ways of your people I am sure that the tale will not seem strange to you, but among green Martians it has no parallel within the memory of the oldest living Thark, nor do our legends hold many similar tales.
"My mother was rather small, in fact too small to be allowed the responsibilities of maternity, as our chieftains breed principally for size. She was also less cold and cruel than most green Martian women, and caring little for their society, she often roamed the deserted avenues of Thark alone, or went and sat among the wild flowers that deck the nearby hills, thinking thoughts and wishing wishes which I believe I alone among Tharkian women today may understand, for am I not the child of my mother?
"And there among the hills she met a young warrior, whose duty it was to guard the feeding zitidars and thoats and see that they roamed not beyond the hills. They spoke at first only of such things as interest a community of Tharks, but gradually, as they came to meet more often, and, as was now quite evident to both, no longer by chance, they talked about themselves, their likes, their ambitions and their hopes. She trusted him and told him of the awful repugnance she felt for the cruelties of their kind, for the hideous, loveless lives they must ever lead, and then she waited for the storm of denunciation to break from his cold, hard lips; but instead he took her in his arms and kissed her.
"They kept their love a secret for six long years. She, my mother, was of the retinue of the great Tal Hajus, while her lover was a simple warrior, wearing only his own metal. Had their defection from the traditions of the Tharks been discovered both would have paid the penalty in the great arena before Tal Hajus and the assembled hordes.
"The egg from which I came was hidden beneath a great glass vessel upon the highest and most inaccessible of the partially ruined towers of ancient Thark. Once each year my mother visited it for the five long years it lay there in the process of incubation. She dared not come oftener, for in the mighty guilt of her conscience she feared that her every move was watched. During this period my father gained great distinction as a warrior and had taken the metal from several chieftains. His love for my mother had never diminished, and his own ambition in life was to reach a point where he might wrest the metal from Tal Hajus himself, and thus, as ruler of the Tharks, be free to claim her as his own, as well as, by the might of his power, protect the child which otherwise would be quickly dispatched should the truth become known.
"It was a wild dream, that of wresting the metal from Tal Hajus in five short years, but his advance was rapid, and he soon stood high in the councils of Thark. But one day the chance was lost forever, in so far as it could come in time to save his loved ones, for he was ordered away upon a long expedition to the ice-clad south, to make war upon the natives there and despoil them of their furs, for such is the manner of the green Barsoomian; he does not labor for what he can wrest in battle from others.
"He was gone for four years, and when he returned all had been over for three; for about a year after his departure, and shortly before the time for the return of an expedition which had gone forth to fetch the fruits of a community incubator, the egg had hatched. Thereafter my mother continued to keep me in the old tower, visiting me nightly and lavishing upon me the love the community life would have robbed us both of. She hoped, upon the return of the expedition from the incubator, to mix me with the other young assigned to the quarters of Tal Hajus, and thus escape the fate which would surely follow discovery of her sin against the ancient traditions of the green men.
"She taught me rapidly the language and customs of my kind, and one night she told me the story I have told to you up to this point, impressing upon me the necessity for absolute secrecy and the great caution I must exercise after she had placed me with the other young Tharks to permit no one to guess that I was further advanced in education than they, nor by any sign to divulge in the presence of others my affection for her, or my knowledge of my parentage; and then drawing me close to her she whispered in my ear the name of my father.
"And then a light flashed out upon the darkness of the tower chamber, and there stood Sarkoja, her gleaming, baleful eyes fixed in a frenzy of loathing and contempt upon my mother. The torrent of hatred and abuse she poured out upon her turned my young heart cold in terror. That she had heard the entire story was apparent, and that she had suspected something wrong from my mother's long nightly absences from her quarters accounted for her presence there on that fateful night.
"One thing she had not heard, nor did she know, the whispered name of my father. This was apparent from her repeated demands upon my mother to disclose the name of her partner in sin, but no amount of abuse or threats could wring this from her, and to save me from needless torture she lied, for she told Sarkoja that she alone knew nor would she even tell her child.
"With final imprecations, Sarkoja hastened away to Tal Hajus to report her discovery, and while she was gone my mother, wrapping me in the silks and furs of her night coverings, so that I was scarcely noticeable, descended to the streets and ran wildly away toward the outskirts of the city, in the direction which led to the far south, out toward the man whose protection she might not claim, but on whose face she wished to look once more before she died.
"As we neared the city's southern extremity a sound came to us from across the mossy flat, from the direction of the only pass through the hills which led to the gates, the pass by which caravans from either north or south or east or west would enter the city. The sounds we heard were the squealing of thoats and the grumbling of zitidars, with the occasional clank of arms which announced the approach of a body of warriors. The thought uppermost in her mind was that it was my father returned from his expedition, but the cunning of the Thark held her from headlong and precipitate flight to greet him.
"Retreating into the shadows of a doorway she awaited the coming of the cavalcade which shortly entered the avenue, breaking its formation and thronging the thoroughfare from wall to wall. As the head of the procession passed us the lesser moon swung clear of the overhanging roofs and lit up the scene with all the brilliancy of her wondrous light. My mother shrank further back into the friendly shadows, and from her hiding place saw that the expedition was not that of my father, but the returning caravan bearing the young Tharks. Instantly her plan was formed, and as a great chariot swung close to our hiding place she slipped stealthily in upon the trailing tailboard, crouching low in the shadow of the high side, straining me to her bosom in a frenzy of love.
"She knew, what I did not, that never again after that night would she hold me to her breast, nor was it likely we would ever look upon each other's face again. In the confusion of the plaza she mixed me with the other children, whose guardians during the journey were now free to relinquish their responsibility. We were herded together into a great room, fed by women who had not accompanied the expedition, and the next day we were parceled out among the retinues of the chieftains.
"I never saw my mother after that night. She was imprisoned by Tal Hajus, and every effort, including the most horrible and shameful torture, was brought to bear upon her to wring from her lips the name of my father; but she remained steadfast and loyal, dying at last amidst the laughter of Tal Hajus and his chieftains during some awful torture she was undergoing.
"I learned afterwards that she told them that she had killed me to save me from a like fate at their hands, and that she had thrown my body to the white apes. Sarkoja alone disbelieved her, and I feel to this day that she suspects my true origin, but does not dare expose me, at the present, at all events, because she also guesses, I am sure, the identity of my father.
"When he returned from his expedition and learned the story of my mother's fate I was present as Tal Hajus told him; but never by the quiver of a muscle did he betray the slightest emotion; only he did not laugh as Tal Hajus gleefully described her death struggles. From that moment on he was the cruelest of the cruel, and I am awaiting the day when he shall win the goal of his ambition, and feel the carcass of Tal Hajus beneath his foot, for I am as sure that he but waits the opportunity to wreak a terrible vengeance, and that his great love is as strong in his breast as when it first transfigured him nearly forty years ago, as I am that we sit here upon the edge of a world-old ocean while sensible people sleep, Buffy Summers."
And your dad, is he traveling with us?"
"Yes," she replied, "but he does not know me for what I am, nor does he know who betrayed my mother to Tal Hajus. I alone know my father's name, and only I and Tal Hajus and Sarkoja know that it was she who carried the tale that brought death and torture upon her he loved."
We were sitting there quietly under the two moons . Mentally, Sarkoja had just gotten her name underlined on the list.
"Buffy Summers, if ever a real warrior walked the cold, dead bosom of Barsoom you are one. I know that I can trust you, and because the knowledge may someday help you or him or Dejah Thoris or myself, I am going to tell you the name of my father, nor place any restrictions or conditions upon your tongue. When the time comes, speak the truth if it seems best to you. I trust you because I know that you are not cursed with the terrible trait of absolute and unswerving truthfulness, that you would lie, if a lie would save others from sorrow or suffering. My father's name is Tars Tarkas."
Very Very Important Writer's Note!
Sola's story is verbatim from Burroughs. He may have been wordy, but my god could he turn a phrase! That's why I've been trying to keep the Martian dialogue as close to Burroughs as possible. This section though had to be verbatim. I do not claim credit for it in the slightest.
Read the original that this poor pastiche is based of off. It is Public Domain worldwide.
I still think Barsoom is his finest creation.
The rest of the trip, in comparison was pretty boring. I healed up fine, and so did Sola. Sarkoja was nowhere to be found which was extremely lucky for her.
We were almost a month on the road. Occasionally we would pass through a dead city. All of them were smaller than the ruins of Korad, the city I had first been taken to. We crossed a couple of the canals. Approaching these, the Big Cheese would first send out a couple of scouts to make sure there weren't any red guy surprise parties planned before we approached. Then we would halt until nightfall, and then sneak across the farmlands until we reached the open plains on the other side.
These farmlands were huge. It took us half the night to cross the first one and the entire period of darkness for the second. My Slayer vision could see pretty well and it was weird passing high walled fields, small farms, animal pens, huge orchards of giant trees, and broad smooth stone roadways, all in basically pitch blackness.
We only saw one red guy out and about and he took off running in the opposite direction when he saw us. He wasn't chased down because the green guys were not interested in killing at the moment, but we definitely picked up the pace before that guy brought back some well-armed friends.
Dejah and I made small talk on occasion, but because we were pretty sure the eyes of the Big Cheese were on us, we kept our contacts brief so we wouldn't spook him.
Anyway, almost exactly a month after I had arrived, we entered the huge city of Thark. From what I gathered there are something like twenty plus communities, like the one I was now part of, called the Tharks. And probably twenty-five to thirty-five thousand green guys and ladies divided up between those communities.
All these communities have their own Big Cheese Jed like Lorquas Ptomel, but the Biggest and Cheesiest was the Jeddak of Thark, Tal Hajus. Five of Thark's communities use the city as homebase. The rest are spread out over more ruined cities in Tal Hajus' area of control.
We entered the city about noonish and, until the residents noticed me and Dejah, there really wasn't any stir in the green guys who were already there. Once we were spotted though things heated up.
We were told to go to our quarters and it was pretty obvious that to the green guys; size does matter.
Tal Hajus had grabbed the biggest most spectacular building in town which was not now, and probably never been, intended as a residence. Lorquas Ptomel and company had the next biggest, and the other four Jeds had descending size buildings from there. The rest of us warriors had the choice of staying in our Jed's building or finding some other place to crash in the city. As long as it was in a section controlled by their Jed of course. With thousands of empty buildings, housing was not an issue.
I found a place the size of a small palace that was currently unoccupied and set up there. Or actually, my 'household' did the setting up thing. I then took off looking for wherever Sola and Dejah had ended up. I did the searchy thing all afternoon until I finally spotted Mr.Gordo peeking out a window at me.
I ran over and up the spiral ramp up to the second floor where I was nearly knocked over by a happy-to-see-me calot complete with extra slobbering tongue action. After I had pried him off I went looking for Dejah who I found hanging out in a corner of the apartment.
"Buffy Summers, what brings you to Dejah Thoris, your captive?"
I froze. I was sure that there were no other listeners, so why was she talking like this?
"Dejah, what did I say or do? I'm only here to help you. Protection and and getting you out of this place. I just want to get you safe back to your father."
"Truly, there is no other motivation Buffy Summers?"
"None as important as what I've said. These green guys want you dead or in pieces or both but I'm not sure in which order. Dejah, I've got to get you out of here or you're toast, uh something Martian that is cooked and crumbles when you spread stuff on it."
"I understand your words, Buffy Summers, but you I do not understand. You are a queer mixture of child and warrior, of brute and noble. I only wish that I might read your heart."
"Well it's on my sleeve, if I was wearing sleeves of course. It's been there since that nighttime stroll in Korad and where it's going to be staying for you alone till I die."
She stepped forward a strange look on her face.
"What are you saying Buffy Summers? You are no man to be saying such to me."
"I had told myself I wouldn't say this till I had gotten you out of here. Dejah, I'm here for you no matter what. I don't know whether women are allowed to love women in your culture, but I love you. If you can't love me back, I'll be sad, but I will understand. Even if you can't I will fight for you, serve you, and die for you. I only have one request; don't say whether you agree or disagree until after I get you home safe. I'll take care of you until then because I want to. Not because I'm expecting anything out of it."
"I will respect your wishes, Buffy Summers, because I understand the motives which prompt them, and I accept your service no more willingly than I bow to your authority as my captor."
Just then Sola showed up which kind of stopped any further chit chat. She looked anxious which was odd because she normally had the Oz zen thing going on.
"That horrible Sarkoja has been before Tal Hajus, and from what I heard upon the plaza there is little hope for either of you."
I raised an eyebrow and Dejah spoke up, "What do they say?"
"That you will be thrown to the wild calots in the great arena as soon as the hordes have assembled for the yearly games."
"Sola, you want to join us when we get out of here? I'm pretty sure that the Red Martian Princess here can offer you sanctuary and a place in Helium."
"Yes, come with us, Sola, you will be better off among the red men of Helium than you are here, and I can promise you not only a home with us, but the love and affection your nature craves and which must always be denied you by the customs of your own race. Come with us, Sola; we might go without you, but your fate would be terrible if they thought you had connived to aid us. I know that even that fear would not tempt you to interfere in our escape, but we want you with us, we want you to come to a land of sunshine and happiness, amongst a people who know the meaning of love, of sympathy, and of gratitude. Say that you will, Sola; tell me that you will."
"The great waterway which leads to Helium is but fifty miles to the south,"Sola responded; "a swift thoat might make it in three hours; and then to Helium it is five hundred miles, most of the way through thinly settled districts. They would know and they would follow us. We might hide among the great trees for a time, but the chances are small indeed for escape. They would follow us to the very gates of Helium, and they would take toll of life at every step; you do not know them."
"Huh. Is there any other way? Can one of you draw me a map?"
"Of course," Dejah took one of her diamond hair clips and started carving a drawing into the marble floor.
There were canals all over the place, ruined cities and one big circle that was apparently Helium, her home town. I looked over the map and followed one line of a canal to the north of us.
"Does this go into your home?" I pointed at the line.
"Yes, but it is two hundred miles north of us; it is one of the waterways we crossed on the trip to Thark."
"Great! They'll never think we'll use it."
Sola nodded and we decided to get out as soon as this evening. Really as quickly as I could get my thoats saddled. Sola and Dejah were going to meet me at the southern city limits after getting some food and supplies, just as soon as I got Skippy and Peanut ready.
I headed out to the corral to get my rides and, after sneaking in not to anooy the sleeping other thoats and the zitidars that were sleeping, found my guys and quietly walked them out. I was pretty sure that Sola and Dejah could get to our meet up undetected, but with me leading two dragony looking horses, not so sure about myself.
After getting lost a few times while looking for side alleys to sneak though, I finally arrived. I didn't see Sola or Dejah so I hid with my thoats in the entryway of an abandoned building. As you may remember I don't do waiting well, so after about half an hour, I decided to sneak over to the actual meet point and check it out. I tied up the thoats and told them to behave, then started climbing up and over so I could get a Martian birdy's-eye view.
Down below I spotted two green guys trying to skulk, and doing a terrible job of it. I mean it was almost embarrassing. A few minutes later they were met by a bunch of thoat mounted warriors. This was officially bad.
"She would likely have arranged to meet them just without the city, and so--" that's all I heard just before the two not-very skulky types left with the patrol. I had to get back to Dejah and Sola before they got snagged!
I moved my thoats to the inner courtyard of one of the abandoned buildings that had a small ppond and shut the gate. I then hauled butt back to the rear of the building Sola and Dejah had been staying in.
I leapt up and chinned myself in through the back window of the second floor. I was now in a back storage area so I moved to the door to get a listen.
Green guy voice equals so not good, "And when she returns to this chamber," he was saying, "as she surely will when she finds she does not meet her at the city's edge, you four are to spring upon her and disarm her. It will require the combined strength of all of you to do it if the reports they bring back from Korad are correct. When you have her fast bound bear her to the vaults beneath the jeddak's quarters and chain her securely where she may be found when Tal Hajus wishes her. Allow her to speak with none, nor permit any other to enter this apartment before she comes. There will be no danger of the girl returning, for by this time she is safe in the arms of Tal Hajus, and may all her ancestors have pity upon her, for Tal Hajus will have none; the great Sarkoja has done a noble night's work. I go, and if you fail to capture her when she comes, I commend your carcasses to the cold bosom of Iss."
Well now. Time for some payback...
I had started hustling out the second the green guy had finished giving orders. Through the window down to the ground and full speed to the Biggest Cheese's place. I had decided that since he wasn't going to fight fair, neither was I.
Tal Hajus, Jeddak of Thark did have an easy place to find, and the lights on the first floor showed me where I should start looking. The rooms at the back of the palace were filled with green guys and green ladies, all of which were probably on the lookout for a shorter than normal warrior. The third floor was dark though so I decided to start high and work my way down. A jump and a little climbing got me inside to a location where no one was expecting me. Score one for Team Buffy next step, recon. I saw light down the corridor so I did my best skulky moves to get there quietly. The green guys have nothing on my skulkishness.
The light was from a archway that led to a balcony. This balcony was ringing a ginormous room that was all three stories in height. Down on the first floor was his Cheesiness himself. Tal Hajus, surrounded by an assortment of warrior green guys, chieftain green guys, and green ladies. Tal was squatting on a raised platform at one end of the room and was one of the scariest looking creatures I have ever seen. He was big and scarred and had a look in his eyes that made Angelus look tame.
The really scary part though was Dejah and Sola standing in front of him. If they hadn't been there I would have sniped him with my pistol. No problem and no hesitation at all. However they were there and it looked as though Tal had some unpleasant ideas about what he was going to do with them. In fact his face had an expression on it that reminded me a lot of some frat boys I had met just before they slipped me and Cordy a Mickey. Dejah was saying something to him about he dare not harm her or horrible things would happen. I agreed with the horrible things part, but to me it didn't really matter if he did anything or not.
Eventually Tal motioned for the chamber to be emptied and everybody except Sola and Dejah scattered. Only one chieftain had hesitated and I spotted him lurking in the shadows before leaving. It was Tars and he had an expression that was probably pretty similar to mine on his face.
Tal stood up and I took this opportunity to slide down the back of a tapestry so I could hear what was going on.
"Princess of Helium, I might wring a mighty ransom from your people would I but return you to them unharmed, but a thousand times rather would I watch that beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture; it shall be long drawn out, that I promise you; ten days of pleasure were all too short to show the love I harbor for your race. The terrors of your death shall haunt the slumbers of the red men through all the ages to come; they will shudder in the shadows of the night as their fathers tell them of the awful vengeance of the green men; of the power and might and hate and cruelty of Tal Hajus. But before the torture you shall be mine for one short hour, and word of that too shall go forth to Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, your grandfather, that he may grovel upon the ground in the agony of his sorrow. Tomorrow the torture will commence; tonight thou art Tal Hajus'; come!"
"I really don't think so slug face and can I just say;Ewwwww!" I had rolled between the two of them and was about to perform a brain amputation, when I remembered that his death belonged to Tars so I just clubbed him unconscious. He dropped like a rock and I grabbed Dejah with one hand and Sola with the other, dragging them up to the room I had entered from; first carrying Sola, I jumped down to the ground, then returned and carried Dejah. She felt so nice in my arms I had to 'Bad Buffy' myself to put her down.
We then went towards where I had stashed my thoats. Sola got on Peanut and I swung Dejah up behind me on Skippy, and in a few moments we were riding south of the city of Thark. Instead of immediately heading for the nearest canal to the northeast, we headed to the one to the northwest about two hundred plus miles away.
We didn't talk until we had left the city in our lack of dust, but I could feel the tension in Dejah as she hung on to my shoulders.
"If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one; greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it, the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you have saved the last of our line from worse than death."
I didn't say anything, just reached back and covered her hand on my left shoulder with mine. And that's how we rode through the dark Martian night. I could feel her leaning against me, and for the first time in a long while, I was actually happy.
The plan we had come up with was trashed as we didn't get any food or water, and I had the only weaponry. We had to hurry before we starved or dehydrated. Fortunately at least the thoats could forage and got whatever water they needed from the moss.
We kept going all night and all the next day; only taking short breaks. The next night we had to stop though to let Skippy and Peanut recover and we got five or six hours sleep too. We were riding again before daylight. The next day we kept riding and when around sunset we still hadn't seen the giant distant trees marking the canal we knew we were in trouble. Yeah the blond had gotten lost.
We had probably circled, but which direction and when I had absolutely no idea. Anyway, no water was in sight and we were all exhausted. Then ahead of us I spotted some distant mountains. We headed towards them to get a bird's eye view of the countryside and see where we had to go next.
Night arrived before we had gotten even halfway, but we had to stop due to being so tired we were almost falling off our rides.
I woke up early with a large shape trying to lie on top of me. It was Mr.Gordo! He had followed us across that empty plain to be with me! I gave him a big hug and told him he was a very good doggie to have found us. Dejah and Sola woke up soon after and they also let Mr. Gordo know how glad they were to see him.
We took off after that and we had gone about a mile when Skippy collapsed. Dejah and I were thrown clear, but my poor thoat looked like he was in awful shape. Sola said that he would probably wake up when it cooled down a bit, so we decided to leave him behind and keep going.
Sola and I were were on foot and we had Dejah ride as she couldn't move as fast as the two us unmounted. We had gotten to about a mile from the mountains we had been heading for when Dejah yelled that there were riders approaching.
A couple miles away there was a column of, to my vision, about a thousand green guys. They were heading away from us fortunately, but we all lay down on the moss to make ourselves as small a visual target as possible, even the thoat.
In a few minutes the column was almost out of sight behind another ridge, but then a lone green guy raised something to his face and was looking in our direction. I knew he had a telescopey thingy or something, so I was pretty sure he was going to spot us. Pulling up that insanely long Martian rifle I got him right through the head right after he started heading towards us yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Sola! Take the thoat and Dejah and get out of here. I'll hold them off!" I slipped them each one of my pistols and hoisted Dejah up behind Sola.
"Catch you later my Princess. I'll see you in Helium, and don't worry, I've survived worse than this."
"What, are you not coming with us?"
"Can't, I'm the Slayer. Death is my gift."
She jumped down off Peanut and wrapped her arms around me, : "Fly, Sola! Dejah Thoris remains to die with the one she loves."
I knew I had to survive then, and looking at Sola, peeled off an emotional princess and tossed her up to my green lady friend. I then turned as Sola got the thoat moving, Dejah tucked under a pair of arms and struggling to get free.
By the time the green warriors got to where their fallen chieftain was Sol, Dejah, and thoat were out of sight and I was prone with the rifle. I had two hundred rounds and I don't miss much. In a few minutes all the green guys that had first responded to the yell were either dead or wishing they were.
Then the rest of the thousand guys showed up and ended my fun. I turned to make sure my associates were hidden then jumped up and took off running in the opposite direction of the way Sola had gone.
I was running jumping and bouncing all through their formation. Attacking then jumping away. But finally somebody managed to snag my foot on a take off and I hit the ground hard before being dogpiled. I was out cold pretty soon after that.
I woke finally and was reasonably surprised that I wasn't dead.
Sitting up and looking around, I saw I was on a clump of sleeping silks in a small room with a few green guys and an amazingly ugly green lady. As I moved she spoke.
"She will live, O Jed."
"'Tis well," one of the green guys responded, "she should render rare sport for the great games. A female warrior of such colouring and skill, will be a unique spectacle."
He wasn't a Thark. The badges and doohickeys on his weapons harness made this perfectly clear. He was a big one too, almost as big as Zad with a broken tusk and a Mike Tysonified looking ear. I was pretty sure when I fought him it was going to be rough. Oh yeah, and strapped to his harness were a bunch of human-looking hands. I knew it would be a rough fight.
Plus he had just mentioned the great games, so I mentally waved bye-bye to the Tharkian frying pan and hello to the toasty warm fire.
The next step was to pull Buffy up and carry outside where she would be stapped to the back of a thoat. The straps were very breakable to Slayer strength, but escaping from the middle of a green guy cavalry column on the move was not that great an idea. I decided to stick it out and wait for a better opportunity.
Which did not arrive. We ended up stopping at an even bigger green guy column and I was marched over to meet the Biggest Cheese of the Warhoon.
Like the Jed who had current custody of me the Jeddak, Bar Comas, was heavily scarred and liked to accessorize with red guy body parts. In his case a breastplate covered with skulls and jawbones. These kinds of fashion accoutrement tend to be popular among the baddest ass warriors of the Warhoon.
Bar was pretty young for a Jeddak apparently and what I gathered, Dak Kova, the green guy who had custody of me, was his old second in command and also pretty jealous and more than a little hateful that Bar was the boss of all bosses.
Dak was so surly he made Spike seem respectful. He didn't even give the traditional formal salute to his Big Cheese and that just isn't done. He just stepped up, dragging me by my chains, and yelled.
"I have brought a strange creature wearing the metal of a Thark whom it is my pleasure to have battle with a wild thoat at the great games."
"She will die as Bar Comas, your jeddak, sees fit, if at all," Bar seemed only slightly annoyed at Dak and I could tell he was mentally rolling his eyes at this idiot.
"If at all? By the dead hands at my throat but she shall die, Bar Comas. No maudlin weakness on your part shall save her. O, would that Warhoon were ruled by a real jeddak rather than by a water-hearted weakling from whom even old Dak Kova could tear the metal with his bare hands!"
Bar sighed then without another indication charged Dak.
Watching two green guys go at it was instructive. Their tactics seemed to be mainly; grab the other guy with two arms then pound the snot out of him with the other two while trying to rip holes in him with your tusks. It was brutal, vicious, and messy. I took careful mental notes on both of their kinds of moves.
Bar was pretty much winning as he fought a lot smarter, but he screwed up breaking out of a clinch. Dak caught him with a tusk shot to the side and managed to basically open Bar up from hip to shoulder until his tusk got jammed on a clavicle. That ended the battle.
Bar was toast, and Dak would have been toast except for the green guy wonder medicine. Three days later he was able to walk over to Bar Comas's dead body, which had been lying there stinking up the place, stand with one foot on Bar's neck and tell everybody he was the new Big Cheese of the Warhoon. Bar's head and hands were removed to make a nice necklace for Dak and his body was cremated. A great time was had by all.
Dak's wounds had slowed down the march so badly that it was decided that it would be canceled until the Great Games were over. The Warhoon had been going to raid a Thark community in response for some incubator vandalism. The entire column of ten thousand green guys turned around and headed back to the city of Warhoon.
The violence I had seen on the first day was mild compared to the brutality I saw on the march. There are fewer Warhoon than Thark I guess, and that's probably because they really enjoy killing each other. In three days though we reached the city.
I got a room of my very own. It was in the basement and was really dark and I was chained to the walls and the food was awful. The manacles were made of bronze and I was able to bend them slightly to get my hands and feet out so I could stretch and practice my Tai Chi. My Slayer vision turned it from pitch black to just really dark gray with the faint trickle of light from under the stone door. A normal human or even a Martian wouldn't have seen it. There were creepy crawly things slithering around which after I started destroying started staying clear. There ere also some dark shapes that stayed far away from me once they realized I could get free. So while it was really boring, it wasn't nearly as bad as sloshing around in a sewer tracking a demon. Still. I wanted out so I started planning an escape.
The only guy I saw was the guy who brought me food. He was a pretty busted up Warhoon with a limp and a serious sinus problem. He would never respond to my snappy banter so he definitely had to go. He made sure not to enter until I was as far away from the door as my 'chains' would allow. Then he would slide the dish with a stick just inside the chains reach.
When I had rested up fully from the attempted Thark escape, I simply slipped off my chains and sat against the far wall until he showed up. When he bent over to push the dish, I charged him and snapped his neck before he even realized I was loose. I was about to open the door when I heard movement in the corridor. The green guy I had just killed was being dragged off by the dark shapes who would probably do a decent job of body cleanup. So I ran back to my chains and slipped them back on just before the door opened.
Two green guys dragged somebody closer to my size into my private cell and chained him to the wall with the same care and delicacy they had used with me. That is, none at all. Then the green guys left so I slipped my chains and moved over to him.
"Who are you who speaks out of the darkness?"
"Buffy Summers. I'm a friend of Dejah Thoris's"
"I am from Helium, but I have never heard of you. And is there no limit to the barbarity of the Green Men? Entombing a mere girl in such hideous circumstances."
"Next words had better be retracting the 'mere girl' part or I won't remove those chains of yours."
"What? You have the key?"
"Not exactly...So, where's the apology?"
"I am sorry if I have offended you. I hear the voice of a fair bird and I naturally assumed the worst."
"Ooo pretty talk. Wait a second and don't twitch or I might break something you don't want broken." I levered his cuffs off his wrists and ankles and passed him what was left of my lunch.
His name was Kantos Kan and he was a padwar, that was some kind of officer, in the Helium Sky Navy. I filled him in on my story since my arrival on Mars and he stopped being skeptical when he felt the stretcheyed out parts of his wrist cuffs.
"I know roughly where you were captured as the Warhoon only use a few paths through those hills for their raids. Dejah Thoris and Sola entered the hills not more than five miles from a great waterway and are now probably quite safe."
"That's great! Now how did they catch you?"
He had been part of the Sky Fleet the Thark had shot the snot out of, the one Dejah's ship was part of. Kantos's ship had been really torn up too and was limping back towards Helium with the rest of the survivors when a raiding fleet from some other red guys from a city called Zodanga intercepted them. Kantos's ship was the only one not destroyed and managed to escape and finally make it home. He got back about the same time I had arrived at the city of Thark.
Dejah's family had sent out a bunch of fleets to find her, but they were all looking north at first. The fleet Kantos was part of was assigned to look south eventually and he had been in like a fighter plane searching for any sign of the princess.
He had decided to check out Warhoon so he had landed well clear of the city and snuck in to see if these green guys had heard of where Dejah was. Then he got caught after two days of roaming around and not finding anything. Like I've said, Martians are terrible at the sneaky stuff. I think it comes from not having to sneak out of the house at night when they were kids. You have to learn that kind of thing early to be any good at it.
The next couple of days were pretty quiet. Kantos talked about Helium, I talked about Sunny-D, edited for Slayer-content of course. I wasn't sure if there were demons on Mars and I didn't want it spread around that the S-word was on the job here until after I was sure Dejah was safe.
Then it was time to go out and fight for our lives. Yay us. We were released (ha ha) from our chains, and escorted up into this old looking arena. It was huge, but the Warhoons obviously did not believe in groundskeepers or even basic DIY home repair, so it also looked like it was one step away from collapsing in in a heap. All the exits had barricades of rough stone blocks in front of them (probably to keep the crowd from getting eaten) and there were cages at each end for the evening's guests of honor.
Kantos and I were in one cage, and in the others it was a regular what's that? of Martian zoology. Calots, thoats, and zitidars. Green guys and ladies from other hordes. Plus a bunch of 'I haven't seen that before's'.
Kantos gave me a rundown of the, hah, rules. The winners of each battle through the day would have to fight each other, and the last one alive was released, whether animal or man. The next day the cages would be refilled and they would do this all again. This circus of joy would last ten days. I nodded and thought to myself that this place had a seriously Thunderdome-ish vibe.
Us meat for the grinder got the privilege of arriving first and having courtside seats so to speak. After all the cages were set up, the crowd started filing in and sitting up on the old worn stone benches of the arena. In less than an hour the place was packed and the new Big Cheese, Dak Kova, made his fashionably late entrance followed by the Warhoon posse and hangers on.
When Cheese and associates were seated, Dak gestured at the green guys running the cage gates, and the show began,
First up was a bunch of green ladies with daggers versus a pack of wild calots. I tried my best to ignore the noise while I was trying to see if any part of the cage was breakable. When it got quiet except for the laughing of the crowd, there were three calots up and no green ladies.
Then a elephanty zitidar was let loose and so it went, all horrible day long. I got to fight both men and animals, and as I was given a sword you can guess how well it worked out for my opponents. I was getting applause by the end of the day and there were comments about how I should be made a Warhoon because of my obvious bloodlust and ferocity. You can imagine how great that made me feel.
Finally at the end of the day there were three of us. Me, Kantos, and a super-sized green guy from some place way up north. Kantos and King Kong had the next battle and I had to watch this one.
Kantos was a great swordsman. That was obvious otherwise he wouldn't have made it to the finals. However, he was only really good when fighting green guys. A couple of his bouts he had won only by sheer luck so I wasn't sure how this one would turn out. King Kong was at least three-Buffy's tall and Kantos was Angel-sized. The two advanced towards each other and when Kantos was about twenty feet away, he pulled an Indiana Jones and threw his sword right into the green guy's chest. King Kong looked down at the shiny hurty thing embedded in his heart and promptly fell over dead. The crowd went wild and now it was time for the final bout.
It was getting dark and the green guy torches only gave a shadowy light to the place. I walked out of my just opened cage to the center of the arena just across from Kantos who had pulled his sword free from the bulky body of Kong.
"Kantos," I whispered, "Can you run me through with out killing me? Preferably on my left side."
"I see. Yes Buffy Summers I can. But we should probably wait till it gets darker."
I nodded and lunged. We fought for a while as night closed in I made sure that Kantos kept giving me small bleeding cuts so I looked like hell. Finally he went for the kill and drove his sword along side my ribs, under the skin. I rolled to my left which grabbing the hilt of Kantos's sword and hit the ground half lying on the body of a zitidar squished calot.
Kantos bent over and pulled out his sword and smeared blood over my neck with the tip while faking he was finishing me off.
"Kantos, get out of here. I'll meet you on the eastern side of the city. Up in the hills."
He nodded and started walkingtowards Dak Kova to claim his freedom.
I lay there until the crowd had all taken off and while the cleanup crew was hauling out a heap of dead whatevers, I snuck off under cover of the darkness.
I spent the next few days holed up in the hills outside Warhoon waiting for Kantos. I usefully spent this time wondering if Dejah had made it home or had been attacked by Martian gorilla-mutants or had forgotten about me. There was enough of the plants that the Martians got their 'milk' from to keep me going scattered around so I had plenty of time to fret. After those few days I was pretty sure he was either dead or unable to get to me or both, so I started walking northwest.
I used to think I was pretty tough being the Chosen One and all, but there are creatures that roam the Martian wastelands at night that scared the crap out of me. I spent the next couple of weeks hiding from the green guys during the day and evading things that go sklork in the night.
Only traveling nights was the key. As I found out me vision was better than most of the other things that hunted then so I had at least a chance to get out of sight. Even so, I racked up a pretty substantial catalog of Martian beasties that thought a Slayer would be easy lunch. I was in a fight with something with way too many limbs to be healthy, big fangs and I think a stinger or two. It was bigger and stronger (of course) but I was taking it down slowly when a low-slung mass of fury hit it in the side allowing me to cut its head off. The low-slung mass was Mr. Gordo doing his best Lassie impersonation.
I was really glad to see him, but as I had sent him with Sola and Dejah, and as only something like death would separate a calot from their orders...
I was in bad shape now. I had tried not to think of Dejah while I was in Warhoon because I probably would have tried something stupid to break out. I had done stupid and pig-headed stubborn in the past and when it came to personal relationships; it just never turned out well for anybody. But now, because of my lack of hurry to escape, Dejah was probably dead and gone.
I started crying as Mr. Gordo, who looked like he had been on a hunger strike he was so skinny, started eating the whatever it was we had just killed. I had been hungry too, but I seemed to have lost my appetite.
After he had finished we kept going northwest. I wasn't moving as fast now and was still sniffling. At dawn I saw the shadowy shapes of huge trees off in the distance and pretty soon one of the buildings that are set up by the canals. The structure was gigantic, maybe a couple of miles on a side and a couple of hundred feet tall, and the pair of us dragged our tired selves over to the comparatively tiny front door.
There was no doorbell just a intercom hole maybe so I yelled out, between sniffles, if anybody was home?
"Who are you, where are you from and why are you here?" replied a grumpy and suspicious Martian voice.
"Uh, Buffy Summers, Sunnydale California, I just escaped from the Warhoon tribe and need some food and water."
"You wear the metal of a green warrior and are followed by a calot, yet you are of the figure of a red woman. In color you are neither green nor red. In the name of the ninth day, what manner of creature are you?"
"I'm a friend of the red guys of Barsoom and I'm starving. Could you please help us?"
After a few seconds the door started retracting in the wall a loong ways the slid over to one side. AT the end of this instant hallway was another door. I didn't see anybody so Mr. Gordo and I staggered in. . As soon as we had passed the first (twenty foot thick!) door's retracted position it slid back into place behind us and the door ahead opened up the same way, and then a third one. It felt like we were walking through a cross between an airlock and Fort Knox.
After the third door was a large open room with a stone table which had food (including veggies!) and water.
"Eat and feed your beast"
"Thank you Mister Invisible Voice," I responded; then Mister Invisible Voice started asking me questions as we were stuffing ourselves.
After he was done with the pop-quiz about who the heck we were and how we had escaped from Warhoon he cleared his throat.
"Your statements are most remarkable, but you are evidently speaking the truth, and it is equally evident that you are not of Barsoom. I can tell that by the conformation of your brain and the strange location of your internal organs and the shape and size of your heart."
"You Cat-scanned me?"
"I am not certain what that is. I did however use certain means to gaze upon your physiology. I could see all but your thoughts; and were you a Barsoomian I could read those as well."
A door opened in the far side of the room and a wrinkly little old guy walked in. You know how I've written that clothes really aren't the thing here? Well this guy was only wearing a gold collar with a huge gold disk hanging from it that covered his chest. This disk was blinged out with diamonds except for the center which had a stone about the size of my thumb. This stone was shining in the lights in here and was sending off rainbows plus two colors I had never seen before.
I talked with this old guy for hours and I noticed that though he couldn't read my mind, his was an open book to me.
This building was the factory that made the air for Mars. The sun shines through some kind of filter on the roof and one of the extra colors I spotted from that gemstone actually turns the sunlight into air or something. Without this factory there just isn't enough plant life to replace the air that escapes into space from the light gravity.
The factory was full of pumps which could take this bottled color and send it wherever it was needed. He had been doing this job for almost eight hundred years and taking turns with one other guy for half a year per shift. Alone. Apparently every red guy child is taught how this system works, but only two guys at a time know how to get into the building, which from what I saw seemed pretty indestructible, and they even used telepathic locks
"Telepathic locks? What the heck are those?"
"Well Buffy Summers, they are a locking mechanism so sensitive that only a particularly precise pattern of thought waves modulated in a certain sequence will allow the external doors to open."
"And of course they're a big secret."
"Of course. It would not do to have the green hordes take the plant hostage or an insane red man to threaten all life on this world." As he said that though, nine distinct sounds flittered through his thoughts.
After that he seemed worried that he had revealed something and looked very suspiciously at me, but he still was being pleasant.
Before I crashed for the night he promised to give me a letter for a nearby farming guy. This red guy would help get me to Zodanga, the nearest red guy city.
"But be sure that you do not let them know you are bound for Helium as they are at war with that country. My assistant and I are of no country, we belong to all Barsoom and this talisman which we wear protects us in all lands, even among the green men--though we do not trust ourselves to their hands if we can avoid it. And so good-night, my friend, may you have a long and restful sleep--yes, a long sleep."
My ears perked at that. I mean I am an expert at recognizing cryptic statements after all. He was probably going to try to kill me and I really didn't want to hurt him as he had been so nice.
I decided it was probably best if I took off now and let him wonder what had happened. I waited at the door of my room until it sounded like he had left the big chamber then exited to where the front door was. I tried thinking the nine sounds I had scooped off his brain at the flat wall, feeling pretty silly as I did it. I mean, what if it didn't work?
It did though and the door slid open silently. I repeated this two more times and finally Mr. Gordo and I were outside again. At least we had had some rest and a good meal so it wasn't a total loss.
We ran from the factory and went towards the canal looking for a road. We found one pretty quick and from there we headed north along the canal. At about dawn we started seeing more buildings and as there were no lights on and I really didn't feel like waking anybody up this early; we found a comfy tree to lean against and crashed.
I woke up to Mr. Gordo's growls. Opening my eyes I saw three red guys aiming rifles at us so I raised my hands above my head and stood up.
"Don't worry I'm not a bad guy. I just escaped from the green guys and I'm on my way to Zodanga. Am I headed the right way?"
At least they lowered their rifles and became more friendly. Especially since Mr. Gordo had stopped growling when I woke up and I was only a girl (ha). We walked over to a larger building which was one of their houses and got breakfast. I told them I was from Earth and they muttered about that. They were brothers running this family farm complex and were also the closest thing to officials the red guys had this far south. I told them about my adventures, but left out the Dejah and Air Factory bits, as we were eating.
The three had discussion while I rested up for a few days and then the oldest looked over at me, "Well Buffy Summers. We recommend that you color your skin closer to our tone and then try to find a job in Zotanga. The army and navy are always looking for good fighters, but a woman would probably be laughed out of the recruiting station unless you can prove how good you are."
We had done a little sparring and they had watched me practice most mornings so they had a pretty decent idea on just how good I was.
"The chances are small that your tale will be believed until after you have proven your trustworthiness and won friends among the higher nobles of the court. This you can most easily do through military service, as we are a warlike people on Barsoom, and save our richest favors for the warrior."
When I was ready to take off they loaned me a domestic thoat and gave me some red oil/body painty stuff for my skin and black dye for my hair. They also gave me some of their house identifying metal for my harness which I switched out for the Thark stuff I had had on it. I know looked like a shorter Martian woman, and that, plus some Zodangan cash, was that.
I promised I would pay them back, and the oldest brother said, "If you live long enough on Barsoom, I am sure you will, now good luck!" and sent me on my way.
Soon I was heading north to find out what happened to Dejah and Sola, Mr. Gordo following behind.
I headed towards Zodanga. Each day bringing me closer to Dejah. I stopped for the night at farm houses on route and had the first lovely tasty meat that I had eaten since I had arrived on Mars. Nothing tasted like anything you could find on Earth, not even chicken. But it was yummy roasted just the same!
The second night I met some folks from one of the richer classes who were also traveling and we ended up chatting. The conversation passed over Helium, and the oldest guy, who had been there doing something all diplomatty a few years ago, said that it was ashame the two countries were at war.
"Helium, rightly boasts the most beautiful women of Barsoom, and of all her treasures the wondrous daughter of Mors Kajak, Dejah Thoris, is the most exquisite flower.
"Why, the people really worship the ground she walks upon and since her loss on that ill-starred expedition all Helium has been draped in mourning.
"That our ruler should have attacked the disabled fleet as it was returning to Helium was but another of his awful blunders which I fear will sooner or later compel Zodanga to elevate a wiser man to his place."
"Even now, though our victorious armies are surrounding Helium, the people of Zodanga are voicing their displeasure, for the war is not a popular one, since it is not based on right or justice. Our forces took advantage of the absence of the principal fleet of Helium on their search for the princess, and so we have been able easily to reduce the city to a sorry plight. It is said she will fall within the next few passages of the further moon."
"So what do you think happened to the Princess?" I asked. As flying casual as possible.
"She is dead, This much was learned from a green warrior recently captured by our forces in the south. She escaped from the hordes of Thark with a strange creature of another world, only to fall into the hands of the Warhoons. Their thoats were found wandering upon the sea bottom and evidences of a bloody conflict were discovered nearby."
Well, I knew a lot of that escapey stuff already having been there, but Sola and Dejah had gotten well clear before the shooting had really started. Something didn't sound right about this. I had learned from experience that sometimes being thought dead isn't really being dead dead, and until I had proof positive, all this meant was that there was still a chance. I had to get to Helium as fast as possible and tell Dejah's granddad what I knew.
I was on the road for almost two weeks until I got to the city of Zodanga. As I had been getting closer I had noticed people giving Mr. Gordo the stink-eye. That made sense because the only folks that normally domesticate calots are the green guys. If I had been walking down Venice Beach with an camel would be a close Earth equivalent.
I felt really bad telling Mr. Gordo to split up from me, but I had to do it before we got to the city gates. I pointed out towards Thark and told him to go home. He gave me that sad doggy look and left looking over his shoulder as went. When he was out of sight I headed onward to the gates.
The brothers had given me a travel letter which I showed to the gate guards and was immediately let in to the huge walled city. It was really early, just after dawn actually and the place was quiet. All the houses were on big metal stilts making them look kind of like giant birdhouses on top of artificial tree trunks. Apparently assassination is really popular on Barsoom and the houses can be raised and lowered as a kind of life insurance.
I had gotten directions on how to get to the city center where I could find a place to stay and the recruiting offices. I wasn't really clear yet how I was going to convince the military to accept a woman, but I was sure going to try! My path led me through a bunch of squares and plazas but they were strictly amateur hour compared to the central square of Zodanga. It was maybe a mile on a side and had a huge open air market set up. On the sides of the square are the palace, government offices, the prison and other important buildings, restaurants, and shops.
I was crossing the square on course towards the government office building and psyching myself up to deal with bureaucrats when I saw a familiar figure in front of me.
"Hey! Kantos Kan!"
He spun around sword drawn and preparing to perforate so I bounced twenty feet away. He saw that and started laughing.
"I was going to ask who are you? but I do not need a better reply, there is but one woman upon all Barsoom who can bounce about like a rubber ball. By the mother of the further moon, Buffy Summers, how came you here, and have you become a Darseen that you can change your color at will?"
"I have a great skin conditioner Kantos," I walked back to him and gave him a hug.
"You gave me a bad half minute my friend," he went on, after I had filled him in on what I'd been up to. "Were my name and city known to the Zodangans I would shortly be sitting on the banks of the lost sea of Korus with my revered and departed ancestors. I am here in the interest of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, to discover the whereabouts of Dejah Thoris, our princess. Sab Than, prince of Zodanga, has her hidden in the city and has fallen madly in love with her."
I was right, Dejah was still alive! Yes!!!
"His father, Than Kosis, Jeddak of Zodanga, has made her voluntary marriage to his son the price of peace between our countries, but Tardos Mors will not accede to the demands and has sent word that he and his people would rather look upon the dead face of their princess than see her wed to any than her own choice, and that personally he would prefer being engulfed in the ashes of a lost and burning Helium to joining the metal of his house with that of Than Kosis. His reply was the deadliest affront he could have put upon Than Kosis and the Zodangans, but his people love him the more for it and his strength in Helium is greater today than ever.
"I have been here three days," continued Kantos Kan, "but I have not yet found where Dejah Thoris is imprisoned. Today I join the Zodangan navy as an air scout and I hope in this way to win the confidence of Sab Than, the prince, who is commander of this division of the navy, and thus learn the whereabouts of Dejah Thoris. I am glad that you are here, Buffy Summers, for I know your loyalty to my princess and two of us working together should be able to accomplish much."
Kantos had led me over to a self-serve restaurant where the Martian equivalent of a vending machine served us with a mechanical arm. The food was fairly nummy, but knowing Dejah was alive and in the same city I was, made it taste even better.
After breakfast Kantos took me over to the headquarters and introduced me to his boss.
"Buffy Summers is an extremely competent warrior and would be a great asset to the navy."
"This frail little gir---ahhhhh ahhh ahhh..."
"I'm afraid I can't understand you Mister Guy whose ear will be fed to the thoats if he doesn't apologize," I let go when it looked like he was about to start crying.
"I am sorry Buffy Summers," he actually sounded sorry and he was carefully checking his ear to see if it was still attached.
"No problem," I said cheerily. "Do I meet the physical strength requirements?"
He nodded quickly and signed me up, even waiving the physical fitness test. I made sure to smile at him as I left.
Kantos taught me how to fly and maintain a one-person scout over the next couple of days. These little guys are like Martian fighter planes like I've said before. They're powered by some kind of radium and float through the air with tanks filled with the eighth weird color. Yeah, I still don't understand it either and I've been flying them for years now.
I had been in Zodanga for four days when I made my first flight and got promoted which included a palace-based place to live.
They had me take off and fly around in a big circle a few times then head south for a couple of hours then come back. The fliers are so much easier than cars, because I really didn't have to worry about other drivers running into me.
Anyway I took off, did my circles, and then floored it south. In an hour or so I had gone close to a couple hundred miles I'm sure. Down below I saw a group of green guys chasing somebody who was hauling butt to make it to the safety of one of the walled fields.
I dived and saw the flee-ee was a red guy heading away from his downed flier. I dived towards the group of thoat riders and rammed the lead guy at the base of the skull. That stopped him permanently, and the other two decided that fighting aircraft from thoat-back wasn't the greatest idea as there weren't a horde of them to concentrate fire.
The red guy waved at me and headed back to his flier. He had had his tools out and had been fixing it when the green guys had interrupted him. I landed next to him and he did a double take when he noticed I was a woman.
"Less gaping more fixing maybe?" he nodded and I started doing my own gaping as he was wearing the metal of the Imperial House of Zodanga. This guy was a relative of the jeddak!
He was fixing his flier as fast as possible because those green guys would probably either come back alone or with a lot of friends any minute now. To scavenge my new buddy's flier if nothing else.
They showed up as he was bent over the motor; approaching from opposite sides of the flier. I told him to keep working and drew my short swords.
"Hey morons! I have two swords; one for each of you!"
Seeing what appeared to be a red guy woman challenging them caused them to both start laughing. Fine with me. I jammed one of my swords into the ground, quick drew a hatchet and had it thrown and the sword back in my hand before they realized I had attacked. The bigger one ate a face full of steel and was out of the fight immediately, the other guy charged me.
He was down before he knew his left leg was missing. I had had a lot of practice.
"You done yet?"
The pilot didn't say anything and I turned to see him staring at the corpses.
I went over and recovered my hatchet, "What? There were only two of them."
He was still quiet as we boarded our fliers and headed back to Zodanga.
When we got back there was a huge gathering on the plain outside the main gates. The other pilot waved me over beside him and we slowed down to watch the show. It was some kind of awards ceremony for bravery. He then unrolled a little flag which said he was an important guy and we flew down to the reserved parking area. Soon we were hovering over Than Kosis, Jeddak of Zodanga, in all his glory. Than spotted his relative overhead and waved him down, I figured I should probably stay put as Buffy and official stuff just don't seem to get along.
The two of them were talking and occasionally pointing at me, as all the rows of soldiers and such were moving into position. Finally though the talk stopped and the ceremony began. An officer walked forward, called out a name. A guy would step forward. The officer would describe what heroic act had earned the award and would fasten an armband on the recipient. Then the recipient would head back to his place in the formation.
A bunch of guys had gotten the armlet when I heard," Buffy Summers air scout!"
I was more than a little freaked and trying not to panic as I landed and did the walk as close as I could remember the other guys doing it. I stopped in front of the officer and waited.
"In recognition, Buffy Summers," he said, "of your remarkable courage and skill in defending the person of the cousin of the jeddak Than Kosis and, singlehanded, vanquishing three green warriors, it is the pleasure of our jeddak to confer on you the mark of his esteem."
Then Than Kosis approached. "If he had not been the one to tell me I would not have believed it. You are a mere woman after all."
I did my best to keep my cool, "Not so mere, Than Kosis. Otherwise your cousin would not be here."
He laughed, "True enough. I will mind my tongue in the presence of such a doughty warrior. My cousin has narrated the details of your wonderful achievement, which seems little short of miraculous, and if you can so well defend a cousin of the jeddak how much better could you defend the person of the jeddak himself. You are therefore appointed a padwar of The Guards and will be quartered in my palace hereafter."
"Thank you Than Kosis. I am honored," and secretly overjoyed as the most likely place to hide Dejah was in that palace. I then moved over to join his staff.
Once the ceremony was done I returned my flier to the hanger and met an orderly from the palace who would show me where to go.
I was apparently placed on anti-jeddak-assassination duty. It seems that straight out murder is a popular form of political and diplomatic negotiations.
The Boss was talking to The Son, Sab Than as well as a bunch of red guys who looked like bureaucratic types. My guide had put me in a passage that led from the meeting room. My duties were to stay out of sight as much as possible, follow Than Kosis if he left, and kill anybody that tried to kill him or his son. I would be off duty in four hours and be replaced then.
There was a peephole in the door to the passage so I could at least get a look at the room. The walls were covered with tapestries that were see though from my side, and probably hid a lot more passages with guards in them.
I was watching the boringness of the conversation when the tapestries at one end of the room parted and, flanked by four Royal Guard type soldiers, in walked Dejah. Looking gorgeous and with a large smile on her face.
Sab Than, current number two on the List, walked over to say hi, and then the pair of them, hand in hand, walked back over to Sab's dad. The Boss looked up in surprise and saluted her.
"To what strange freak do I owe this visit from the Princess of Helium, who, two days ago, with rare consideration for my pride, assured me that she would prefer Tal Hajus, the green Thark, to my son?"
I was mentally cheering Dejah for that great slam.
"From the beginning of time upon Barsoom it has been the prerogative of woman to change her mind as she listed and to dissemble in matters concerning her heart. That you will forgive, Than Kosis, as has your son. Two days ago I was not sure of his love for me, but now I am, and I have come to beg of you to forget my rash words and to accept the assurance of the Princess of Helium that when the time comes she will wed Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga."
What!?! Oh, it was so on!
"I am glad that you have so decided," replied the Boss. "It is far from my desire to push war further against the people of Helium, and, your promise shall be recorded and a proclamation to my people issued forthwith."
"It were better, Than Kosis," interrupted Dejah, "that the proclamation wait the ending of this war. It would look strange indeed to my people and to yours were the Princess of Helium to give herself to her country's enemy in the midst of hostilities."
"Cannot the war be ended at once?" Sab spoke up. "It requires but the word of Than Kosis to bring peace. Say it, my father, say the word that will hasten my happiness, and end this unpopular strife."
"We shall see, how the people of Helium take to peace. I shall at least offer it to them."
Dejah then turned and left the same way she came in.
Mind control? Evil robot? Evil Mind Controlled Robot? Whatever, I was going to find out what was going on.
I headed back down the hallway I was stationed in, looking for Dejah and entourage. It was pretty much a mazey kind of place, but I could hear the tramp of the four guards so I homed in by sound. I kept going until I heard voices, including Dejah's, muffled by a door. I waited a second then opened the door. The first guard in the room was unconscious before he could finish turning around.
There were three more in the room, I took out one with a thrown hatchet, one with a flying kick and the last I just broke his neck. I was sure that two currently unconscious ones hadn't seen me.
The thud and snap of the last guy falling had alerted Dejah that something was going on and she was soon opening the door.
"I was expecting you sooner Buffy Summers," she then ran over and kissed me.
"I always have had troubles with meeting schedules," I said after kissing her back, "So what's with the marriage proposal?"
She gave a squeak and started to look very sad, "Too late, too late. O my chieftain that was, and whom I thought dead, had you but returned one little hour before--but now it is too late, too late."
"Has any paperwork been signed?" I was starting to get an idea about what was happening.
"Think you,Buffy Summers, that I would give my heart to you yesterday and today to another? I thought that it lay buried with your ashes in the pits of Warhoon, and so today I have promised my body to another to save my people from the curse of a victorious Zodangan army."
"An army? Is that all? I came here for you and if the Tharks or Warhoon couldn't stop me what makes you think Zodanga can?"
"It is too late, Buffy Summers, my promise is given, and on Barsoom that is final. The ceremonies which follow later are but meaningless formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain than does the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death upon him. I am as good as married, Buffy Summers. No longer may you call me your princess. No longer are you my chieftain."
"Simple then, No more Sab Than equals no more marriage. I can do that."
"Nor that either," she hastened to explain. "I may not wed the man who slays my husband, even in self-defense. It is custom. We are ruled by custom upon Barsoom. It is useless, my friend. You must bear the sorrow with me. That at least we may share in common. That, and the memory of the brief days among the Tharks. You must go now, nor ever see me again. Good-bye, my chieftain that was."
"Good thing I'm not a man then..."
Her eyes widened.
"Oh my chieftain!" she kissed me again.
"I'll be back, the finale of this really needs to be in a place where Zodanga can get thoroughly embarrassed."
She nodded and retreated back into her quarters while I headed back to my guard post and waited for the screaming and yelling.
Just at my shift change there was a loud bunch of noise and a Royal Guard came rushing in to tell the Boss about the deaths of two of the guards assigned to the captured princess. The guy who was relieving me and I rushed into the room along with all the other guys hidden behind the tapestries. The guy who had guided me to my guard post was there and he ordered all of us just relieved types to report to the princess's quarters to make sure nothing else happened.
We saluted and I followed the rest as we set up another perimeter. The guards already there did a double-take when they saw me and their leader told me to go in to the princess's quarters and stay with her. I saluted and, for the first time in my life, actually enjoyed following an order.
When I entered I signaled to Dejah to stay quiet. As she was Martian nobility, she was no newbie to political intrigue and could hold a serious poker-face. I stood by the door and listened to the comments of the guards out in the antechamber.
"It is the work of Heliumites," I heard the Boss's voice.
"Yes, O Jeddak, but how had they access to the palace? I could believe that even with the diligent care of your guardsmen a single enemy might reach the inner chambers, but how a force of six or eight fighting men could have done so unobserved is beyond me. We shall soon know, however, for here comes the royal psychologist."
Another voice now heard from said: "O mighty Jeddak, it is a strange tale I read in the dead minds of your faithful guardsmen. They were felled not by a number of fighting men, but by a single opponent."
"I am not sure O Jeddak, They one's that indeed saw it are dead and all I could recover from the remnants of their thoughts, was that of a reddish blur that moved at impossible speeds and struck with unbelievable ferocity. I can not even say what sort of weapons were used because of the amazing force behind the blows.
"The mind of the Princess of Helium whom I have examined and questioned was a blank to me, she has perfect control, and I could not read one iota of it. She said that she did not witness any portion of the encounter, and that when she looked there was nothing but bodies strewn across the floor. She then sealed her door, and cried for help when the relief guards arrived."
Than Kosis made a decision, "Seal the palace. The perpetrator could not have escaped in this short time. Find out where all the guards and staff were during the period of the attack. Whatever it was, it could not have entered my residence without someone seeing something. Padwar Buffy Summers!"
I stepped out into the anteroom feeling slightly nervous, "Yes O Jeddak?"
"You are now assigned to the Princess Dejah Thoris's personal guard. Stay beside her at all times, day and night. And no one, save myself, my son, her maids or the Royal Guard assigned to her, shall be allowed to get near her. Do you understand?"
"It shall be as you order O mighty Jeddak!" I saluted extra-sharply while trying not to giggle. The Boss, the Son, and all the rest of the extra folks that had showed up, gradually left until it was just me and eight Royal Guardsmen with Dejah. I saluted the Royal Guards Sergeant and headed back into Dejah's rooms shutting the door behind me.
I made sure the door was bolted and moved over to Dejah, "We have help out in the city. One of your Naval padwars is here also looking for you!"
"Who is it my chieftain?"
'Kantos Kan. Do you know him?"
She nodded, "He is a good and trustworthy individual."
"Yeah, we were stuck together in Warhoon for the games. That was not one of my favorite days...Anyway, I have to get to him and let him know what's going on Maybe between the two of us we can get you out of here without me having to kill everybody in the entire palace."
"You are a strange sort of warrior, not wanting to kill."
I smiled, "I break all kinds of rules and assumptions. It's one of my defining features."
I went over to the door and unbolted it before opening it a crack.
"Is there a problem padwar Buffy Summers?"
I looked over at the Sergeant, "Nooo. It's just that the Princess Dejah Thoris is has taken to her bed to recover from the shock of what happened. She requested me to tell you that she not to be disturbed for at least two hours as she regains her wits. If it is the Jeddak or her betrothed, she would like that phrased as a polite request of course," Speaking in this formal style, like the red guys did, sent me back to buried memories of Harlequin Romances.
The Sergeant saluted and responded it would be done as the Princess wished. I slipped back inside and re-bolted the door before heading over to the barred window. After telling Dejah what I had said and that I'd be back soon, it didn't take too long to bend a bar just far enough to let me wiggle out on to the ledge outside.
I slipped down the wall staying in the nooks and statue pockets for cover. Once I was at ground level I jogged over to where Kantos was staying.
He hadn't gotten the news about the deaths so obviously the Boss was keeping everything as quiet as possible. When he found out about Dejah and the Son getting engaged he freaked.
"It cannot be," he exclaimed. "It is impossible! Why no man in all Helium but would prefer death to the selling of our loved princess to the ruling house of Zodanga. She must have lost her mind to have assented to such an atrocious bargain. You, who do not know how we of Helium love the members of our ruling house, cannot appreciate the horror with which I contemplate such an unholy alliance."
"What can be done, Buffy Summers?" he continued. "You are a resourceful woman. Can you not think of some way to save Helium from this disgrace?"
"I already have Kantos. The problem is not getting close enough, but the potential after effects for me and Dejah. The fact that I'm not a man breaks part of the custom, but sets up a new problem on rule interpretation if I gut Sab Than. It might be better if somebody else does the honor of the gutting."
Kantos gave me the stink-eye as he processed what he heard.
"Oh, Buffy Summers?"
I looked embarrassed, "Uhm yeah?"
"You love her! Does she know it?"
I nodded my head vigorously, "And she loves me. I'm not really sure why though."
Kantos scratched his goatee and looked sideways at me, "Who am I to halt the progress of true love?" he got to his feet and raised his sword, "And had the choice been left to me I could not have chosen a more fitting partner for the first princess of Barsoom. Here is my hand upon your shoulder, Buffy Summers, and my word that Sab Than shall go out at the point of my sword for the sake of my love for Helium, for Dejah Thoris, and for you. This very night I shall try to reach his quarters in the palace."
I felt much better then faded again, "How? The palace is extra-guardy at the moment due to some...problems with a couple of Royal Guards not being alive any more."
"I only need to pass these guards and I can do it. I know a secret entrance to the palace through the pinnacle of the highest tower. I fell upon it by chance one day as I was passing above the palace on patrol duty. In this work it is required that we investigate any unusual occurrence we may witness, and a face peering from the pinnacle of the high tower of the palace was, to me, most unusual. I therefore drew near and discovered that the possessor of the peering face was none other than Sab Than. He was slightly put out at being detected and commanded me to keep the matter to myself, explaining that the passage from the tower led directly to his apartments, and was known only to him. If I can reach the roof of the barracks and get my machine I can be in Sab Than's quarters in five minutes."
"Well as you were off duty and out of the palace when everything happened you shouldn't be suspected yet. Get going to your flier. I have to get back to Dejah."
He nodded and I took off back to the palace.
When I got there I saw that the guards around the outside had been doubled and they had the red guy version of searchlights covering the walls. There was no way I was going to be able to get back inside to Dejah. At least not right now. And the two hour delay was almost up, so my secret identity was about to become public. I headed off for the barracks to grab a flier for me.
The doors of the barracks were locked, there were extra guards, and as I was supposed to still be on duty at the palace there was no way I was getting in. The fliers were kept on the top floor and as there were no searchlights here, I went up the side.
After knocking out the mechanic on duty, I borrowed a flier. Kantos had taken off just a few minutes ahead of me so I followed the dim shape of his air scout. He was staying low over the city on his way to the palace but he would have to climb to get to the tower and then the spotlights would pick him up. Once he was spotted the palace air force would rip him a new one and that would be bad.
I dove down next to him and shouted, "I'll draw them off! You get Sab Than!"
He nodded, "Stay safe Buffy Summers!" then waited till I flew right through the closest spotlight's beam.
It was like kicking open a Farooz demon's nest. All the fliers made a beeline for the ship that was not responding to radio calls. I didn't have the night's code words and my voice would have given it away anyway.
Unlike my training scout these guys had machine gunny things on their's and weren't afraid to open fire. I spent the next few minutes trying to not become a Buffy-sized piece of swiss cheese while getting everybody to concentrate on me.
After a while I had them all chasing me, and as I was: A)Lighter than the other pilots, and B)Didn't have heavy weaponry installed, it was easy to start outrunning them. This chase kept up until I was a good distance away from Zodanga than a lucky shot hit me in the compass and reflexively I dived.
When I finally pulled up I saw that the pursuing red guys had lost track of me but now I was turned around and really wasn't sure what direction I was flying except that it was roughly away from Zodanga and towards Helium. I kept going and hoped that Dejah and Kantos were okay.
Dawn broke and I still had no idea where the heck I was heading (No blond jokes!). I was headed out over one of the huge open plains of Mars when I saw the flashes of gunfire in the distance. Naturally I had to check it out.
Down below was a couple of armies, of several thousand green guys each, slugging it out. I knew what that meant, so I started to turn around, but was almost instantly shot out of the sky. It took a little while to float down to the ground and I played dead so I wouldn't attract any more rifle fire.
When I was about thirty feet up I abandoned ship and landed right in the middle of a huge battle. They were all going hand to hand to hand to hand on each other while the rifle guys on the edge of the battlefield were occasionally adding to the fun by shooting into the middle of the brawl.
I drew my swords as I was falling, landed, and rolled to my feet and realized by looking at the metal on the soldiers that this was Thark versus Warhoon and I had arrived next to Tars Tarkus. As the Tharks had treated me better than the Warhoons I knew which side I was on, plus I actually liked Tars.
He was fighting three guys and hadn't noticed me dropping in unannounced. He took out one of the Warhoon green guys, but in stepping out of the way of a lunge he tripped over one of the many bodies just lying around and was on his back. I jumped in between him and them and proceeded to take one of them down while the him in the equation got to his feet and took out the other them.
He looked at me and smiled, "The colour does not suit you Buffy Summers, but there is no other mortal upon Barsoom who would have done what you have for me. I think I may have learned that there is such a thing as friendship."
I grinned at him and we went back to back against the Warhoons surrounding us. The fight lasted the rest of the day until the Warhoon green guys fled. The tails of their thoats between their legs as they took off into the darkness.
Tars said there had been around ten thousand guys involved in this fight and there were probably a third of them still lying on the battlefield. Green guys don't normally take prisoners after battles like this.
We headed back to the city and Tars went to the posse after battle meeting while I stayed outside. I was leaning against a wall cleaning my swords when I got tackled by a huge shape with a big wet tongue. Mr. Gordo had found me! After scritching him behind the ears and telling him he was a very clever doggie for coming back here, Tars reappeared.
"Tal Hajus knows that you are here,Buffy Summers. Sarkoja saw and recognized you as we were returning. Tal Hajus has ordered me to bring you before him tonight. I have ten thoats,Buffy Summers; you may take your choice from among them, and I will accompany you to the nearest waterway that leads to Helium. Tars Tarkas may be a cruel green warrior, but he can be a friend as well. Come, we must start."
"And when you get back here?"
"The wild calots, possibly, or worse. Unless I should chance to have the opportunity I have so long waited of battling with Tal Hajus."
"We're staying and I think you'll have your chance."
"But Buffy Summers, Tal Hajus never forgets a slight and the fact that a small woman such as yourself was able to incapacitate him with one strike does not improve his a opinion of you. Why did you not slay him when you had the chance? Now he will take the opportunity to torture and maim you for his amusement."
"Because I don't deserve that privilege. Don't worry Tars, we'll get through this to your satisfaction."
Then I told him Sola's story.
I thought I'd seen angry green guys before. I was wrong. Tars looked like he was going to rip off Tal Hajus's fat face, jump on it a few times, then turn him inside out and do the ribcage hat thing.
"I think Buffy Summers," he said after his face had mostly stopped twisting in rage, "we will go and see Tal Hajus. But let us first pay a visit to Sarkoja. I am sure she misses your company."
And I thought I had a scary smile.
The walk over to Sarkoja's quarters was quiet and quick and as soon as she spotted me I got a truly awesome death glare from her. It felt so good.
Tars started talking in a low controlled voice, "Sarkoja, forty years ago you were instrumental in bringing about the torture and death of a woman named Gozava. I have just discovered that the warrior who loved that woman has learned of your part in the transaction. He may not kill you, Sarkoja, it is not our custom, but there is nothing to prevent him tying one end of a strap about your neck and the other end to a wild thoat, merely to test your fitness to survive and help perpetuate our race. Having heard that he would do this on the morrow, I thought it only right to warn you, for I am a just man. The river Iss is but a short pilgrimage, Sarkoja. Come, Buffy Summers."
He turned and left. I waited a second and then spoke, "On the other hand, I am not just or a man. You may not have until tomorrow..." I caught up with Tars.
"What did you say to her Buffy Summers?"
"Nothing much, just a little girl talk." we headed on over to the Biggest Cheese's place in silence.
When we got to his palace we were let right in. Almost as if he reallly wanted to see us. He was standing on his throne looking as fat and evil as before. He couldn't wait to start the party.
"Strap her to that pillar," he screamed. "We shall see who it is dares strike the mighty Tal Hajus. Heat the irons; with my own hands I shall burn the eyes from her head that he may not pollute my person with her vile gaze."
"Oh? Well then," I faced the posse, "I have worn the metal of your chiefs and fought beside you against the Warhoon. I should be allowed to speak in my own defense. That's only just."
"Silence," Tal made with the screaming again. "Gag the creature and bind her as I command."
"Justice, Tal Hajus," Lorquas Ptomel spoke up. "Who are you to set aside the customs of ages among the Tharks."
Whoa, the Big Cheese was backing me against the Biggest Cheese? I'd have to send him a fruit basket...If I lived through this.
Then a bunch of the posse started yelling, "Yes, justice!"
Huh, maybe I was on the right track? Tal Hajus looked royally grumpy and a little worried which I was counting as a check in the win column so I kept going.
"Tharks are brave. That's obvious. I do have one question though. Where was Tal Hajus during that battle today? Bravely guarding the women and the zitidars? I'm a woman and not even a green Martian and I was out there fighting alongside Tars Tarkus and the rest of you. Tal was probably back here in his lair ripping apart children and pulling the wings off flies because he doesn't think he can beat up anything larger.
"I mean, I knocked him out with one punch. Me in all my lack of hugeness. The quality of Thark jeddaks has really slumped recently, maybe you need a new one. One with bravery, skill and intelligence. One that isn't a bloated lump of putrescence and ick. One like, I don't know...Tars Tarkus, your greatest warrior and battle leader?
"The council is the only one that can allow this challenge to Tal Hajus's fitness to be the boss. If Tal there had a spine instead of being a jelly-bag full of worms and pus, he'd invite Tars to fight because I happen to know that Tal hates and is jealous of Tars Tarkus. But Tal is a coward. I could kill him with my bare hands and I'm sure he knows it. I would've killed him before, but that's not allowed without permission to challenge from the council."
The Biggest Cheese was frothing at the mouth mad but he kept quiet. Anything he said could be read as a challenge to either me or Tars, and he was no dummy.
"Tal Hajus," Lorquas spoke in a cold, hard, and slightly amazed voice, "never in my long life have I seen a jeddak of the Tharks so humiliated. There could be but one answer to this arraignment. We wait it." Tal stayed quiet. I could see him trying to think of a way to talk himself free.
"Chieftains," Lorquas kept going and I could see a predatory glint in his eyes, "shall the jeddak, Tal Hajus, prove his fitness to rule over Tars Tarkas?"
All twenty swords raised in the air. Tal Hajus was screwed. With a sigh he drew his longsword and stepped in front of Tars Tarkus.
A few minutes later we were all saluting Tars Tarkus, Biggest Cheese of Thark.
His first act as Biggest Cheese was to make me a full Big Cheese posse member, backdated to when I took out the two chieftains when I first arrived.
We then had a long chat about what I had been up to and what I had just come up with regarding the Zodanga versus Helium problem. Tars called a posse meeting.
"Buffy Summers has made a proposal, which meets with my sanction. I shall put it to you briefly. Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium, who was our prisoner, is now held by the jeddak of Zodanga, whose son she must wed to save her country from devastation at the hands of the Zodangan forces.
"Buffy Summers suggests that we rescue her and return her to Helium. The loot of Zodanga would be magnificent, and I have often thought that had we an alliance with the people of Helium we could obtain sufficient assurance of sustenance to permit us to increase the size and frequency of our hatchings, and thus become unquestionably supreme among the green men of all Barsoom. What say you?"
Chance to fight? Check. Chance to loot? Check. The question wasn't really in doubt.
In only a few days Tars had even managed to convince a few smaller hordes to join with Thark with the promise of the loot from Zodanga.
So we left with about a hundred thousand green guys. At the lead was Tars, me, and following right behind, Mr. Gordo. We traveled at night and hid during the day in the abandoned cities we passed. When we encountered a small horde of green guys during our trip, instead of fighting them, Tars recruited them. This was, according to Tars, the largest horde that had ever been assembled in the history of Barsoom. All I knew was that I was going to get back to Dejah.
As we got closer to Zodanga, the normal infighting and brawling in the horde decreased. Helium usually didn't intrude into green guy territory, but Zodanga did and they sometimes found the incubators. This focused the warriors and they were really ready to kick some red guy butt.
When we finally arrived, I snuck forward with twenty green guys and started putting my cheerleading experience to use. I had them build a three row human pyramid against an unlighted section of the ten-story tall city wall, and with a running start ran up it until I could leap from the head of the top guy, (which was about forty feet up) to the catwalk. I then unslung a leather rope and hauled all twenty up then lowered them down on the other side. From there we stormed the gatehouse and quickly opened the city to the horde.
I took a bunch of guys and headed for the palace, while a small group held the gates, and a runner was sent back to Tars to tell him the party had started.
I headed to the palace and was soon joined by Tars along with way too many pillage-happy green guys to be in any way safe.
After doing my circus acrobat trick again at the palace walls, there were soon sixty one loot-loving green guys and one love-crazed human heading across the gardens and absolutely ruining the landscaping.
All the lights were on on the ground floor and it looked like there was a full house of guests. It seemed like we'd be party crashers. Okay. The few outside guards were dropped without a sound and we moved closer to see what was the what.
The main hall was packed. At one end was the Jeddak and a couple of his hotties sitting on gold thrones covered with diamonds. This guy made West Coast rappers look tasteful. A bunch of the Royal Guard and various bigwigs stood around them. Then there was the large red carpet with soldiers making like an honor guard. I did not like the way this was starting to click together in my Buffy-brain. As I kept watching a procession entered the room at the far end of the red carpet.
First four Royal Guardsmen hauling a giant silver banquet tray with a cushion of scarlet silk, on top of that cushion was a big gold chain with a collar and padlock at each end. I really didn't like the look of this.
Behind these red guys were four more carrying a another tray holding bling marked with the logos of a prince and princess of the reigning house of Zodanga. I unsheathed my hatchet and carefully pried the window open as quietly as possible.
"What is thy plan Buffy Summers?"
"I'm going to be a wedding crasher Tars. Hold your guys back until I tell you. Okay?"
"Certainly Buffy Summers. For this much treasure, even a Green Martian can be a little patient," he said smiling. The other green guys that had heard our chat were smiling and nodding too; as well as readying their swords and axes. Mayhem is as natural as breathing to these guys.
When they got to the throne, the two processions stopped and split apart, so they were looking at each other. Then more guys in their best almost nudity, some more Royal Guard guys, and lastly two people wrapped in red silk like mummies by Victoria's Secret.
These two ended up facing Than Kosis. When the rest of the people marching in had found their places Than Kosis said something to the couple in front. I was still trying to get the window open without making too much noise so I couldn't hear what he was saying, but I guessed it was something that started with the red guy equivalent of, "Dearly Beloved..." Then two officers moved up and de-mummified one of the people. Yeah, it was Sab Than. Kantos hadn't gotten him.
Big Zodangan Cheese picked up one of the collars from the banquet tray and locked it around the Son's neck. He said some more ceremony stuff to the soon to be disappointed (if I had anything to do about it) groom, he looked at the other figure, who was soon de-mummified as well. And there was Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.
Forget about being quiet, as the bling was put on her and the gold collar was opened for placement, I threw my hatchet through the heavy glass window and across the hall. The blade lopped through the gold chain as well as the officer that was holding it up's finger before embedding itself in Than Kosis's throne.
"No invite? Now I'm really hurt!"
I dived in and started ruining every guardsman that came near me's day. Of course I was followed by a small army of green guys whose eyes were flashing dollar signs at all the gold, silver, and jewels.
I was soon up by the seriously surprised couple as well as a really shocked Big Cheese. The Son gave me a look so I kneed him in the groin. Hey I didn't kill him!
"Than Kosis, Zodanga is falling, take a look," and I pointed towards the window that seemed to be clown car-ing green guys, led by Tars and all on really angry looking thoats. I have to say two things about Martians; they do not scare easily and everybody, red or green, is armed.
The wedding turned into a massive brawl as guards and guests were mixing it up with the invaders. Unfortunately for Zodanga it was only a matter of time before some of the other green guys decided to check out the palace.
Shoving Sab Than off of the throne platform, I scooped up Dejah and jumped up to one of the chandeliers to get her out of the main battle. I headed back down and made Sab Than the new Big Cheese of what was left of Zodanga. Sab Than didn't seem really appreciative on how he had just been promoted and immediately tried to gut me along with some of the Royal Guard. I grinned and decided to teach them about a fun and non-necessarily lethal style of fighting called Tai-Chi. I started off with just disarming them, then moved to nose tweaks, hair pulls, face slaps, eye-pokes, and finally switched to full on Stooge-Fu. Xander would have been so proud.
"The woman! The woman! Strike her down; it is her plot. Kill her! Kill her!"
Hey! I had a fan club. Suck on that Cordelia Chase.
I worked my way so my back was against the wall and happily defended myself as the torrent of green guys laid waste to any red guy nearby. The battle ended when only green guys were still standing. There had been no surrender and when I realized that, I suddenly felt sick.
The Son was dead beside the Father and I had no idea who had done it except that it wasn't me. The floor and all the silk and other finery was soaked with blood, and it was hard to move around all the bodies on the ground. I felt really sick.
I retrieved Dejah from the chandelier and asked Tars to keep an eye on her while I looked for Kantos. I really just wanted to get away from that bloodbath. It made the great games look almost tame.
I headed for the dungeons with a dozen warriors who had shown up late for the looting and wanted to get theirs. After a lot of yelling Kantos' name, I finally got a response, and after insisting that this red guy was NOT a target, we found him and I let him out by ripping the lock off his cell door.
We headed back to the main hall. The green guys saw me and cheered before heading off to loot the rest of the palace. There were screams and shouts and rifle fire coming from outside and soon Dejah and I were left alone. I motioned for her to follow me and we walked into the less bloody antechamber.
She looked at me, "Was there ever such a woman!" she exclaimed. "I know that Barsoom has never before seen your like. Can it be that all Earth women are as you? Alone, a stranger, hunted, threatened, persecuted, you have done in a few short months what in all the past ages of Barsoom no one has ever done: joined together the wild hordes of the sea bottoms and brought them to fight as allies of a red Martian people."
"Well you know, love makes you do the whacky."
She blushed which was scary cute. "I am not sure exactly what that means Buffy Summers, but you may say that now for I am free."
"Oh I have a lot more to say I'm sure. Stuff about your brains and beauty and bravery and other mushy stuff too. I've done a lot of strange and fantastic things over my life, but nothing has even come close to fighting for and winning you. I mean a Princess with somebody like me? It boggles the mind. So with all of the introductions out of of the way. Will you, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, be mine?"
"She does not need to be abashed who so well knew the answer to her plea before the plea were made," she replied and so I took her in my arms and kissed her.
In the middle of a warzone, death and dismemberment all over the place. Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, true daughter of Mars, the God of War, said yes to marriage with Buffy Summers, Slayer and Cali girl. Who would've thought it?
A little bit later Tars hunted us down to tell us Zodanga had been pretty much flattened. At least he knocked first.
The smaller green guy hordes had decided since they were out of red guys to fight, each other would be an adequate substitute, so the city was getting even more dangerous if that was possible. I told Tars to get whatever warriors he could, we'd 'borrow' what was left of the Zodangan navy, and head straight to Helium.
We got lucky. The naval crew barracks hadn't been hit as badly since it wasn't that impressive looking a building (read no gold on the outside) to your typical horde member. Inside the building were a lot of red guys that decided that if they had a chance of surviving they would be happy to help crew the Zodangan airships. Especially when they found out the firm of Jeddak and Son was out of business.
A few hours later we were airborne and heading towards Helium with a fleet of a couple of hundred battleships loaded with green guys. After that fleet was a lot of transports hauling the green guys thoats. I really don't want to think about what an airsick thoat smells like.
We had left early in the morning and by late afternoon, Helium was in sight. It's actually two cities connected by walled roads and bridges and has lots of red and yellow towers. It's almost as cool as Dejah.
The Zodangans parked outside kind of noticed us and the huge freaking improvised Helium flags we were flying (Dejah's idea). They started taking off, but their flightpath was up and through the line of fire of all the green guys standing on the decks. It was not very pretty. Green guys are fantastic shots while riding a thoat at full gallop. Now they had a firm place to stand and all the time in the world to aim. Things on the Zodangan ships started to explode.
The red guys in Helium saw the firefight and figured we were the good guys so they started launching ships to help. I felt like I was in the middle of a cross between a Pirate and a WWII Battle of Britain thing movie.
The pirate movie part was the big ships which acted like sailing ships with the broadsides and the desire to throw grapples and send over boarding parties. The Battle of Britain was the little air scout fliers with their machineguns zipping around shooting whatever they could without dying.
A Zodangan ship got a hole blown in its side and a ball of that weird color flowed out and vanished straight up in a flash. The ship started falling and soon crashed into the dead sea plain a long way down below. Then a couple of the Helium ships got above the Zodangans and started dropping bombs. Remember what I had said about the bullets? Well the bombs are the same but MUCH bigger.
The little ships were shooting what they could, the green guys were sniping whatever idiot crew stuck their heads above decks, and our ships were keeping the Zodangans busy firing while the rest of the Helium ships got above them as well.
It was over pretty quickly after that. Caught between two decent sized groups the Zodangan attackers were squashed like a bug under a hammer. Those that could surrendered and I really couldn't watch that. It seems to show surrender the ship's captain has to jump overboard from altitude. What happened to just raising your hands in the air and saying I give up?
Anyway after seeing the first one, I made extra sure I didn't see any of the others. Soon the Big Boss ship from Helium arrived and we signaled them that we had somebody they'd probably really like to see on board. Dejah came out on deck.
The Big Boss ship came over to dock with us and when they saw Dejah their crew went nuts. Then they saw all the green guys and things got very quiet. Then Kantos came out, told them what's the what and they went nuts again. Red guys can be really weird.
Dejah stepped aboard their ship and started greeting some of the high ranking types by name. Then she turned and pointed at me.
"Lay your hands upon the shoulder of Buffy Summers, the woman to whom Helium owes her princess as well as her victory today."
They were polite and all, but obviously weirded out by a woman wearing Thark metal and carrying the weapons of a green guy warrior. I figured I'd give them a break.
"Actually, here's Tars Tarkus Jeddak of Thark. He's the one that got the hordes together to fight for Helium. He 's one of the greatest soldiers and rulers I've ever met," I didn't mention that he was also one of the only ones I'd ever met. I figured that would hurt my point.
Thark formality worked well when talking to Helium upper-class types because Tars was polite and the two groups seemed to hit it off. Dejah stayed on board the Big Boss ship and looked a little miffed when I told her I had to stay with Tars to finish the Zodangan camp cleanup.
The Helium ship commanders said they'd attack from the sky while Tars' guys attacked from the ground. We off loaded the thoats from the transports that had finally caught up and got ready to fight. During the offloading the Zodangan's sent raids against us, but they were easily fought off and at about midnight we were ready.
We split into three groups and were to get as close as possible before charging.
I am a small battle kind of fighter. One at a time, two at a time even ten at a time. That's my style. Here I was in an army of a hundred thousand or so going up against almost a million. My bigger problem was that most of them weren't evil. They were just guys drafted into a stupid war and I really didn't want to see any more of them die.
I told Tars to hold off till I gave the signal, and stripped down to the basic utility straps and silks any red gal would wear. Then I stared sneaking through the Zodangan lines. Because of the two moons, Martian night vision is pretty horrible. They just don't need it. So I waited until both were down and headed straight for the center of the camp. I could see just fine.
It was easy to find the commander's tent, just look for the biggest and tackiest. Green and red guys do have a lot in common in the taste department. I was spotted a few times, but who looks twice at a red gal when there are possibly dangerous menfolk around? Hah! Anyway getting to the tent was a snap and getting inside was just as easy. I simply picked up a tray full of food and carried it in.
"Your meal sir." I simpered as much as possible. The inside was just as tacky as the outside and I wished I had sunglasses to block out some of the gaudy. There were four guards, the commander and a couple of aides judging by their metal. The commander and aides were looking at a map and the guards were looking bored and guardy. The commander looked up at me a waved me towards a table.
"Just put it there girl."
I turned and discus-ed the tray at the farthest guards head while holding back a bottle from it. The bottle went flying at another guard while I started my run at the third. The tray had hit at the same time I landed from the flying kick and I was moving towards the last guard as the bottle arrived. He had had time to draw his sword so I simply took it from him and smacked him upside the head with the flat part, before throwing it through the map table directly in front of the commander.
The guy I had hit with the bottle was still sort of standing so I tripped him and kept walking towards the officers.
"Newsflash. Than Kosis is dead. Sab Than is dead," I pulled out the Jeddak's seal which I had been keeping as a souvenir of my engagement.
"Zodanga is overrun with Green Martian hordes and was in flames when I saw it last night. You have a choice. Fight the Green Martian Hordes backed by the Helium Navy here and probably die, or head home and see what you can save. This is not a request for surrender, simply allowing you to disengage from a really stupid war."
"Who are you woman?"
"Buffy Summers, Slayer of Sunnydale. Pray you don't get on my bad side by staying."
I slipped out while they were still gawking and made my way back to Tars.
"Buffy Summers! What was the result of your raid? Are their leaders dead?"
"No, let's just wait for a little while Tars. Something interesting is going to happen really soon now."
We sat and waited for about an hour before it was obvious that the great Zodangan army was packing up and getting ready to move. A large cavalry and air scout formation had already headed back towards Zodanga.
"What magic is this Buffy Summers?"
"I just appealed to their best interests. Don't worry, with the speed they're going to be moving, they'll leave lots of stuff behind."
An hour later a pair of air scouts returned and soon the entire camp was in a tizzy. Packing, loading, and getting ready to move out. Tars sent runners to the other hordes and to Helium to let the Zodangans retreat but to make sure they didn't try anything sneaky. By dawn the camp was empty of people, but there was still a ton of stuff lying around which the green guys promptly claimed. They were still kind of miffed that there wasn't more fighting, but easy loot made up for a lot.
Then we entered Helium. Macy's just thinks it has a parade. Helium does have a parade. People were yelling and cheering. Green guys were being welcomed. And strangest of all I was being treated like some kind of hero.
I've never thought, or at least really believed, I was one. I mean being Chosen is as much a curse as anything and I would have been extremely happy I'm sure if I had never heard about the things that go bump in the night. Except for one thing, I never would have met Giles, and Spike, and Xander, and Cordelia, and Oz, and Anya, and Angel, and Faith, and Kendra, and Tara, and Dawn, and Willow, and Tars, and Sola, and Kantos, and especially Dejah. All these people brought out the best in me; stuff I never knew I had. I've always done what I've done because if I didn't, who else would or even could?
So I was being called a hero and it felt strange and good and scary all at the same time. Tars and I and Mr. Gordo headed towards the main plaza and our path was clogged with people that wanted to thank us. Eventually we made it though and we were greeted by some of Tardos Mors' guys who were going to escort us to the Jeddak of Helium.
Tardos Mors was salty goodness personified and he stepped forward to Tars.
"That Tardos Mors, may meet the greatest living warrior of Barsoom is a priceless honor, but that he may lay his hand on the shoulder of a friend and ally is a far greater boon." he had to reach way up to touch the shoulder but he did it anyway.
"Jeddak of Helium, it has remained for a woman of another world to teach the green warriors of Barsoom the meaning of friendship; to her we owe the fact that the hordes of Thark can understand you; that they can appreciate and reciprocate the sentiments so graciously expressed," I felt like blushing at that compliment of Tars'.
Tardos then greeted all of Tars' posse and then turned to face me and placed both hands on my shoulders.
"Welcome, my daughter. That you are granted, gladly, and without one word of opposition, the most precious jewel in all Helium, yes, on all Barsoom, is sufficient earnest of my esteem."
I then met Mors Kajak, Dejah's dad, and was even more broken up than I was, so we both really couldn't talk much because of the sniffling.
After a week of hosting the green guys, the Tharks headed home with a treaty to stay out of the red guys of Helium's way and vice versa.
Sola went home with her dad who had officially stated his was the father to his posse. Go Tars!
Three weeks later they were back for the ceremony where both the brides wore red silk and a great time was had by all.
The next nine years were great for me and pretty boring for anybody else. I fought for the armies of Helium and confused people with my turns of phrase in council sessions. You know, the usual. The people seemed to like me and they loved my wife (who could blame them for that?).
Up on the roof of the palace was a golden incubator with a single egg in in it. I didn't even try to understand how that was accomplished. Barsoom science is a wonderful thing. And looking at it grow was one of Dejah's and my favorite things to do whenever we had some downtime. Planning for whatever future our daughter would have, when the shell finally broke.
We were standing there hand in hand talking about the strangeness of our romance when I saw a flash of light as an airship was heading pedal to the metal straight towards Helium. In a few seconds Dejah saw it too and identified it as a courier boat moving at emergency speed.
In a few minutes after it had landing a messenger arrived on the roof commanding that Dejah and I report to the main council chamber. When we got there Tardos Mors was looking glasses polishing worried and pacing back and forth. When everybody had arrived he started talking.
"This morning, word reached the several governments of Barsoom that the keeper of the atmosphere plant had made no wireless report for two days, nor had almost ceaseless calls upon him from a score of capitals elicited a sign of response.
"The ambassadors of the other nations asked us to take the matter in hand and hasten the assistant keeper to the plant. All day a thousand cruisers have been searching for him until just now one of them returns bearing his dead body, which was found in the pits beneath his house horribly mutilated by some assassin.
"I do not need to tell you what this means to Barsoom. It would take months to penetrate those mighty walls, in fact the work has already commenced, and there would be little to fear were the engine of the pumping plant to run as it should and as they all have for hundreds of years now; but the worst, we fear, has happened. The instruments show a rapidly decreasing air pressure on all parts of Barsoom--the engine has stopped.
"My people, we have at best three days to live."
I turned to Dejah.
"We have been very happy, Buffy Summers," she said, "and I thank whatever fate overtakes us that it permits us to die together."
The next couple of days it was okay, but on the morning of the third day it was getting hard to breath. The royal family gathered in a sunken garden to wait. Even Mr. Gordo knew that something awful was happening and snuggled up to me and Dejah. We had gotten the incubator brought down from the roof and the two of us would stare at a life we would never know.
Tardos Mors rose and said, "Let us bid each other farewell. The days of the greatness of Barsoom are over. Tomorrow's sun will look down upon a dead world which through all eternity must go swinging through the heavens peopled not even by memories. It is the end."
He kissed the members of his family and patted them on the shoulder.
I looked over at Dejah and she was looking gray. Then her eyes opened.
"Kiss me, Buffy Summers. I love you! I love you! It is cruel that we must be torn apart who were just starting upon a life of love and happiness."
I kissed her and felt like I was a complete failure. Then I realized I was reverting to doom and gloom Buffy. I could do something! I had a plan!
"Tardos! Get me your fastest air scout. I think I can save Barsoom!"
Less than a sec later a guard was hauling butt to the nearest dock and getting a scout ready. I kissed Dejah, Mr. Gordo, and Tardos goodbye and followed the guard.
Flying low so I could still breath I flew as fast as possible to the factory far to the south. By the end I was only a couple of feet above a sea bottom just to keep going. The vision of a gray and lifeless Dejah kept me going as even I was starting to feel the effects of the wind at the speed I was traveling. My lack of size and mass helped for once because without it I would have been a heck of a lot slower.
It was almost night when I reached the plant and I kind of crashed on the ground right in front of the door before sliding up against it. I probably had a concussion from the impact and I was seeing six of everything, but I managed to choke out, "If I can get the doors open, can anybody get it going again?" to the really surprised and also suffocating workcrew.
I can," one guy who looked as bad as I felt answered, "if you open quickly. I can last but a few moments more. But it is useless, they are both dead and no one else upon Barsoom knew the secret of these awful locks. For three days men crazed with fear have surged about this portal in vain attempts to solve its mystery."
"Just turn on all the pumps when you get inside. All of them!"
He nodded and I concentrated, trying to remember the sounds I had gotten from the factory boss's mind all those years ago.
And there they were! I sent them at the first door and the worker headed in, following the door. I still couldn't move so I unlocked the second then the third doors. Then I went unconscious.
I woke up in a narrow coffin and I think you know what happens next. At the time I couldn't remember Dejah or Barsoom or anything. Just that I was happy. Then some other stuff happened and I did get back...But that's a story for another time.