(See glossary at end of story for Martian terms)
Barsoom was cooling off after sunset with both distant moons in the widening dark sky moving through their appointed arcs. It was the beginning of the end to a beautiful day for SarTheina with all the far away suns of evening glistening with diamond brilliance upon the salt beds below. The dry seas sparkled with starlight as their air ship flew over the ground at an incredible rate of speed.
SecRieka, her boyfriend, was at the helm of the one prop flyer with SarTheina holding on to him from behind, hugging his back. It was cooling, between them, and SarTheina scooted in closer to her sweetheart. She did not want any cold air between them. She should have brought a cloak but the gossamer gown was good enough for such a short journey and SecRieka was always warm. It wasn't that cold.
The lights of far off Helium were in the sky, as several cities lit up the forward horizon, perhaps fifty haads away, but she did not care. It had been a wonderful day. SecRieka was good at cooking meals over an open fire as they had spent the day hiking and playing in the Blue Hills, catching glimpses of the rainbow birds as the ancient fowls soared the canyons and slopes of that beautiful and exotic range.
It was a day to remember and tell her friends about, how sweet he was, how he always made her laugh, and his clear observations on life. How he wanted to spend his time doing, " ... worthy feats of honor", he'd said, several times since meeting him. And with every new outing they drew closer together, leading towards the inevitability of marriage and an even greater love between them that would continue to grow throughout their lives. At least, SarTheina felt that way, almost certain that he did, too.
The hum of the flyer's engine and the barely noticeable wind flowing over their low seating shoe felt good to her. An affirmation in reassurance of their strength and union of one, now, rather than two halves, and stronger for the reality.
She glanced behind her and saw right through the propeller spin, barely making out the horizon line above the Blue Hills, far behind them, now. She'd like to go back again, sometime soon. The 'hills', that were actually mountains, were more beautiful than she had remembered, not having visited the range since she was a little girl. She had forgotten how filled they were with inexpensive crystals that lay everywhere, all over their surface. Her satchel was filled with ones she'd thought were pretty.
SecRieka patted her hands crossed over each other around his waist. She squeezed him a little harder and then released the compression of his flat, muscular, middle, just above his weapons belt which carried the standard sword, long knife, and pistol, that almost every Barsoomian carried out in the waste places, including her.
The air craft did a little unexpected fishtail, quite suddenly, SarTheina noticed, but he was in control even as they climbed higher into the air. She felt an elation to his every nuance and decision, always feeling safe with his opinions. And he kept himself and the flyer in excellent condition, staying fit, working on the machine, like checking things before they needed to be serviced. She was in love and could see much in the way of their future.
What seemed like xats later, though, he brought her to the community amethyst tower, she lived in, and parked the flyer in one of several of the tall parking garages adjacent to it.
"What happened to that?" she asked, noticing a line of indentation that had concaved part of the sheet metal of the flyer and tracked upward into the wind screen. It was fractured in spiral cracks that looked like an asteroid strike, with a small hole to its center.
"The green men took a shot at us. Did you see them below us on the way back?"
"No, I didn't."
"We passed right over them quite suddenly and couldn't be avoided. We were lucky they didn't hit any place serious on the flyer, or us. That's why I started to climb. But we were out of range before they could reload, thank goodness. I've never heard of them being so close to the capitol before. I think I better report it tonight so no one gets hurt. They can't be up to any good, especially if they already took a shot at us."
SecRieka walked her to the door of her apartments. He kissed her and she put her emotions behind the return kiss of her own. She wanted SecRieka to stay a little longer but he 'had' to leave, he said.
"I want to tell the authorities about the two green men out on the plain. We could have been killed. Who can say who else is out there."
Later that week, Padwar Rieka returned and proposed marriage to her and their betrothal became reality by the end of the month. But her husband died in the salt several weeks later on patrol with the Helium Security Forces. The green men of Barsoom had finally got to him.
At the news, SarTheina grieved, cremated her husband as per tradition, and settled in to reclaim her life. She laid the egg of their child and let it mature out in the desert incubator, SecRieka's boy, but he too passed on to his father's arms from a respiratory illness. And all the more, SecRieka's death and his son's smoldered in SarTheina's heart.
Depression and anger hit her hard and at the suggestion of several people, SarTheina took up learning physical combat skills to work out those anger issues and keep busy. She excelled to such a degree in them, however, that in less than two years she was beating every woman in class, and quite a few of the men, in all-out practice bouts.
All of the men, in fact, except for one. DecArtuk was the most refined and skilled fighter she knew. He had asked her out, too many times, until he'd given up, thankfully. She was not romantically interested in others anymore, though SarTheina knew him to be a sweet person for he was a quiet strength. She had even told him of her future plans, to come out to the wastes on her own, one night, but he did not advise her against it or offer any sort of reparations about her fallen husband. He was quiet about those things. But he was so beautiful, she remembered, and very tall, but she had no heart for that kind of thing anymore. Or was she merely putting those emotions behind her pain?
The optional classes of long knife wheeling and swordsmanship were second nature to her, almost before beginning serious training. She'd been learning and practicing those skills since her school days, like most young girls. It was considered an honorary thing, anyway, for young ladies to know and she had advanced far beyond proficient. Yet it was more of a stylized form of sword play, back then. But using that early training to her advantage, she had transformed herself into an aggressive, imaginative fighter, with an economy of movement and skills that were very fast, and 'lethal', as her instructor had voiced it.
SarTheina advanced in both skills of long knife and sword, quickly, largely due to having better combat instructors who knew what actual warfare and hand to hand combat skills were all about. That helped immensely. She even practiced firing the long range rifles and pistols, in the other optional weapon's class, and became a curiosity and an 'Advanced Person of Value', in the local club.
Thoughts began to form in her mind of using these to an advantage, though any Barsoomian of honor, worth their metal, would never use guns except in a last resort situation. Even in war between the civilized nations, battles were often never won by the use of guns. The advanced kingdoms of Barsoom rose and fell, or endured, on honorable warfare.
SarTheina felt, secretly in her heart, that she was without honor for she wanted only to kill the green men of Barsoom. She cared little what conventional thoughts were on the subject. Annihilation was her goal, now. Wipe them from the face of the planet, children, women, and especially the men. Her heart had become as hot as seething lava in her hatred, as great as the volcanic fires to the east on the huge Mountain of Doom, in the Land of Domes. Black was her soul, now, and cold as the charred ashes of Helium's enemies. Their would be no rest. No consolement. No acceptance. No balm of word or kindness that could soothe the flames that had built up in her soul, daily, and would not thwart her determination. On the morrow, she would leave for the high desert and her revenge.
Before the sun had risen and the clouds still slept in their dreams of darkness, SarThenia was air borne and heading though the bracing winds. She wore her warmer white camouflage clothing over her gossamer shift, of which she had several stealthy examples, and was armed with everything she had practiced with over the last three and a half years. Few hunters of the enemies of Helium were as prepared for deep desert in-fighting, and survival as SarTheina was...
She had just flown high over a band of green men in their own country.
Taking their direction in mind, SarTheina consulted her maps. They were drifting in the general direction of the Orkansa wells, forty haads to the north west.
SarTheina was a thousand haads south west of Helium, firmly in green men territory, but that didn't matter if they weren't a threat to others of her race. They were green men, weren't they? She would kill without impunity. Without sorrow. Without pity.
She set up her sniper hide at the next nearest drainage dip in the empty seabed of salt, out of reach and sight. Wearing white, head to foot, and at the distance her rifle could fire with some accuracy, she would be lying down waiting for them to get into range. And when they were, she would kill them all, then cut up and burn their remains.
It was relatively easy sighting in on them and with her long range rifle; almost too easy. SarTheina had almost no qualms of concern for the hated race as she watched them fall through the cross hairs. She dropped all six from their thoats, last to first in their line, before they realized what was happening.
She had specific training from an ex military marksmen. It was hard to find one that would speak to her, much less show her the intricacies of skilled shooting and sniper tactics, as it wasn't a skill honorable men sought after. She was only a woman, after all, that wanted to learn how to shoot and kill. It sounded suspicious. But in the end, she found her man that taught her all he could. She had finally explained her hatred. He told her he would only do so, 'to help keep you alive'.
One of the greatest lessons she'd learned, was being patient. So SarTheina waited for the thoat animals to move away and as they did, she watched the bodies on the surface of the salt through the rifle's scope for two zode's, looking for movement. She didn't want to be shot approaching them. They had no sense of honor about not using their guns, as most civilizations of note, did. She was like those green men, in that respect. SarTheina had descended to their level, she understood and accepted, but it was necessary to accomplish her goal.
Flying to the killing ground, SarTheina landed nearby as the thoats lumbered off a bit in the close distance, watching her and the strange object of the flyer. Green men did not use flyers.
Five of the men had huge holes in their body's central core. But she had missed one and he was only missing one of his four arms, possibly bleeding to death.
He was, however, still conscious and lucid.
"A puny red woman," he managed to get out, reaching for the pistol on his hip. "I was shot by a red, scum, calot of a woman. What a disgrace."
He glared at her and her arm moved without seeing it move and it had a pistol of its own in it's hand, now. The gun fired and his pistol shattered into a hundred pieces. Glass ammunition beads scattering and imbedding themselves into his nearby hand and leg. He jerked and looked at them, grimacing in pain, a growl of anger and intense discomfort emanating from his throat.
She walked up to his feet, holstering her pistol and kicked one foot.
"I thought green men preferred to die on their feet, fighting?" she taunted.
"So we do, Helium calot," he said eyeing her mode of dress and the emblems of her weapon's harness. "But tell me, little red scum, why did you attack us? None of us have ever been north to Helium. We are traders and you are well into our territory. So why hunt us?"
SarTheina said nothing, watching him closely. She would not be distracted and moments later, she was rewarded by a quick movement of one of the green man's hands. He grabbed at his long knife but she was quicker and as the blade cleared the scabbard, she shot the hand that held it, blowing it clean off the forearm.
"Arrrrggg..." the eight foot tall thing screamed, his legs kicking, his body rolling, holding his shortened arm. He swore heavily and then spat in her direction, which she easily side stepped. "You piece of dung. You scum!" he shouted again and again, throwing scoops of salt from the ground at her with the two remaining good hands he had left. One lower. One high limb. The pain had caused him to sit up and scoot back, away from this infuriating pipsqueak of a female in spite of his serious wounds. He hated her more than ever, now. More than anything he'd ever hated.
It was just what she wanted.
"Are you going to stand up and fight or just sit there like a freshly hatched egg until you die, you stinking coward?"
Something you never did was question a green man's bravery and calling one a baby and especially a coward was enough to raise them from the dead.
"And get shot, again, huh? And what am I going to use as a weapon, red scum?
"You still have your long sword. So get up, you filthy green bug. We'll finish with blades." SarTheina was taunting him worse then ever, but truly felt disgust for this creature. And if he could kill her, so what. What did she have to live for? She had already concluded those kind of things in her mind, months before.
She watched as he grimaced, drawing his long sword and using it as a crutch. It's point sank into the salt of the dry sea under his weight but it still helped him stand. His leg was bad. He was limping but that was his concern. When he put his two remaining hands together, over the hilt of his long sword, the knuckles of his fingers went bone white with hatred in his agony. Then he came at SarTheina.
The green man swung wildly, nearly falling, and recovered, somewhat, but SarTheina cut off a third arm for his troubles. The thing screamed and spun on her, suicidally charging, holding his sword on high, over his head, uselessly.
SarTheina side stepped and hopped forward and made a quick sweep of her long sword and cut the beast man's throat, badly.
She watched him go to his knees, dropping his weapon, his one good hand at his neck, pumping its disgusting liquid from between his fingers. He choked on his blood and sickened by the sound of his dying, SarTheina kicked him over onto his side and severed his head completely. The eyes blinked at her feet and the mouth gasped grotesquely for several moments and then were stilled.
SarTheina wiped the blood from her sword as she thought of burning the bodies but then considered, why waste the meat. Let the microbes and other animals take their fill.
She took the weapons, though, not wanting other green men to find and use any or all of them against her kind. She could sell them to people who liked to collect such things as green men weaponry back in Helium. Their trade goods were useless, to a point. There were some metals, jewelry mostly, she could sell. It would keep her expeditions financed. She had a job she had quit to come out here and now she needed the stuff. She would cache what she could use for that purpose near the top of some isolated mountain and take it back with her when this journey was done. Then there could be more expeditions and less green men.
She loaded her husband's flyer, equipped now with a new, thicker, combat shielding of very dense metal that would repel most guns. DecArtuk had helped her install it, in fact, taking one full day for both of them to do so. She sometimes wondered what he saw in her. They had attached the same type of shielding metal to the aft and sides, also, so there were many places to store extra gear. She would have to get rid of the booty right away, though. The craft could get too heavy, fast, with what she had in mind: Killing as much as she could, taking the usable goods and hiding them out here till she was ready to leave with them, then sell them back in Helium. It would sustain her efforts.
SarTheina was out in the desert three weeks before deciding her food was all but gone. She'd have enough to keep her snacking on the way back to Helium. She'd go to her cache and take the precious metals back first. Sell the jewelry to a jeweler, or have them melted into ingots, depending on what they were and how good the craftsmanship was.
She didn't count how many she had killed, so far, but they had been impacted, she knew. And there were many more out there, all the green men in the world. Even though SarTheina was pretty sure she would tire of killing, one day, her heart was still like flint against these people. It would be a long while before that lulling emotion arrived. She was certain of that.