Author's Notes: I absolutely loved John Carter, in an all-consuming, borderline obsessive way that I haven't loved a film since I saw Star Wars when I was a young girl. No, it wasn't perfect. But it was great fun, and it makes me terribly sad that the reviewers panned it so badly.
I'm convinced that if the film had come out in the 80s or 90s, it would have been a mega hit. But it is no longer the 80s or 90s, and I am no longer young. At any rate, if you liked the film and you're on Facebook, then you should join the group "Take Me Back to Barsoom! I want John Carter to have a sequel!"
Disclaimer: Disney owns the rights to the film, the characters, situations, names, and places used herein. I am not making any profit from this story.
Dejah Thoris threw open the tall black doors to her laboratory chamber and stepped within to survey the massive nest of papers, diagrams, and replica models that for the past 200 years had been the sole focus of her life. The force of her entry caused a momentary draft that blew some of the papers sitting on the high table to the door's right onto the floor. They floated gently on the air, the thin paper quivering until it came to rest before her, just brushing her sandaled feet.
It was a diagram of eighth-ray light refraction. The red lines parted at a precise point in the middle of the page and diverted into eight segments darting at all angles across the yellowed paper. She had only set it down last week, after using it to explain something to one of the Academy's eager young novices. Dejah bent low and picked it up with a shaking hand. She felt threatening tears form around her eyes, a dispiriting tightness around her throat. Don't cry, she ordered herself. Crying is weakness, and you cannot give in to weakness. A hot and defiant tear escaped her eyes, dropping onto the thin diagram and causing the ink with which she had drawn those careful lines to bleed across the page's thin fiber.
Dejah recalled with bitterness the dark and long hours she had spent in this most beloved of rooms, and of the sleepless nights when she had refused food and drink lest it disturb her and her colleagues' planning sessions. The machine she had abandoned in her father's throne room had represented the last push of a decade's work. In her excitement over the possible discovery, she had not eaten a proper meal for three weeks.
What was it all for?
Dejah Thoris had met Sab Than before, many years ago when he had been just a boy and his visionary father had summoned all the greater and lesser Jeddaks to conclude a truce on the battered hull of Zodanga. He had been present at the signing, but Dejah had 100 years on him, was already in the first flush of womanhood, whereas he was barely out of the nursery. As a scowling, angry little boy standing by his father on the dais, Sab Than had generated no more notice from her than if he had been an insect buzzing at her ear. Subsequent events, however, had called upon her to examine the memory with greater scrutiny. For his father had been assassinated by his generals not two months after the truce was concluded. And they said that when Sab Than found out, he had cut the liver from the corpse and eaten it. There were also less flattering reports that said it had been something else . . .
Yet that man was to be her husband. That man was to lead her into the wedding bed.
With a trembling, shaking fist Dejah crumpled the diagram she still held and pressed it tightly to her chest against her beating heart. She shut her eyes against her tears. It was all for Helium, she told herself. All for Helium, all for Helium . . . and everything I now do is still for Helium.
Dejah Thoris opened her eyes. She knew what she must do.
"I heard you had your entire library burnt just before I arrived."
Dejah was in the Royal Atrium with Sab Than, "getting to know him better," and thus far it was going very badly on both sides. He had been as unimpressed with her as he had with the herb beds so carefully cultivated by her father's gardeners. The last bastion of the ancient plants of Barsoom, and he did not even care to look or ask after their upkeep. Dejah hated him. His breath smelled like rotting meat, and his little mouth was haughty and cruel. Like so many men, he stared at her hungrily, possessively, but without any interest in the words leaving her mouth.
"Really, Princess, what do I care for your books and diagrams? I have all the power I need already at hand."
"It was not all light rays and airships, my lord," said Dejah, with a detached coolness that belied her indignation. "There were also discourses on horticuIture. If you weren't so narrow-minded, you might have found them useful."
"Ah, you mean I might have had to abandon 500 of my people in the desert to make room for your ridiculous grass specimens." He callously plucked a budding flower from a nearby stock and rolled it between his fingers until it popped. Then he threw the wasted remains onto the cold stone floor.
Dejah chose to ignore his rudeness. "These plants represent what kept all of Barsoom alive for vast millennia, and their disappearance is the reason it dies now."
He waved at the air, as if smacking away the words as they came towards him. "What's past should stay past. Helium expends too much time and money on these futile ideas," he spat. "If you think to introduce them when you come to Zodanga, think again Princess."
"And if I did?" Ever resourceful, Dejah tried a new tactic. With a coy smile, she stepped in front of him, slowly reaching over to inspect the damaged plant and exposing the enticing curve of her backside to his view. Before she had quite managed it, Sab Than seized her forearm roughly in his hands and twisted until her flesh burned.
When she neither cried out nor winced in pain, Sab Than wrenched her closer, so his face was directly before hers, their eyes staring into each other's. Dejah's mouth twitched in anger. Her blue eyes flashed with naked hatred for him. The violence of her anger seemed to impress him, as nothing else she had said or tried had yet done.
"You hate me," he stated, with the barest hint of a smile. For the first time since Sab Than had arrived she sensed a small measure of respect from him. "You have every reason to hate me, Princess. And despite what you think, I am not fool enough to try to convince you otherwise. But know this, Dejah Thoris. Your place is in my bed, and that is all. There is no room in Zondanga for weakness, not from your water fat flesh or your profligate plant gardens." He twisted her arm harder and was rewarded with a wince.
Sab Than laughed at her. "All Heliumites are as weak as the trickle of the river that winds through your dismal, pathetic little gorge."
Dejah spat in his face, and with a grunt of outrage he released her and reached for the edge of his cloak to wipe the spittle from his cheek.
"Helium kept Zodanga at bay for 5,000 years," Dejah said, pulling herself up to her full height. "And so long as I live, I swear by Mother Issus, you'll never sleep easily in your bed again."
Grinning, he grabbed her hard between her thighs, his fingers squeezing and pressing her through her skirts until it hurt. "Believe me, Princess, I can't wait."
She struck him hard against the side of his face and stormed out of the Atrium into the safety of the narrow cloister beyond. He did not pursue her, but his laughter rang in her ears and the memory of his insult burned in her mind and on her heart. Outside the atrium, she found her ladies were waiting there for her, with cheeks flushed with embarrassment for what they had just witnessed. Breathing hard, Dejah faced them. She surveyed each of them, the words on her lips but strangled within her throat by her sense of duty.
Finally, Kyrgia stepped forward and placed a consoling hand upon her shoulder. "My lady, he is very handsome."
The thought had never once occurred to Dejah. The Princess refused to return Kyrgia's gesture. She broke away and walked briskly down the hall. Her ladies followed closely behind, their flowing robes whipping at the marble beneath their graceful feet.
To think my father would give me away to such a man . . . My father would rather see me dead, if he knew. For a brief moment, Dejah allowed herself to contemplate the unthinkable and found she could not go so far as to take her own life. No, but she would not marry Sab Than.
At last Dejah found the courage . . .
Is it courage? she questioned. Is this not running away?
She saw the future veering out before her, two paths, one swathed in the black of the desperate unknown and the other a vivid crimson, stretching out towards her and enveloping her beneath the choking red dust of Barsoom. The vision loosened Dejah's voice.
"Fetch me Kantos Kan," she ordered Iluria, one of the younger and more fleet-footed girls. Her voice shook, whether from rage, fear, or despair, she did not know. "I require a ship tonight."