(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.
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /