Flashing #32: Sword and Planet

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Today's story is a bit of a homage to Burroughs' A Princess of Mars.  In the interest of full disclosure I should probably say that I'm not a hug fan of fantasy books, especially any that can be classifed as "Sword and ______." It was just never my thing. But I tried my best and I kind of like what I came up with. The thing with good fantasy (or at least the fantasy that I actually do like) is that it's always a wonderful allegory for the modern world. So I tried to capture that in this story and play with perspective and desire and how relate to the war in Iraq.  We're all grunts - the soldiers and the suicide bombers - fighting wars that other people view as just and necessary. 

As for how this piece ties to the original memoir...let's just say it evolved from the original memoir but changed drastically as I wrote it out. I really like this as it is though, and that's what matter with this experiment.

Anyway, I hope you dig it. If you want more Flashing stories, head on over to the main page.


The bombed out building smells of gasoline and charred corpses. Second Lieutenant John Carter is pinned under rubble and dust, his legs crushed, his lung punctured, his face coated in dried blood and vomit. He hears the wounded around him, calling out for help or Jesus or mommy or all three. He can’t make out the voices, he doesn’t even know if they’re from his platoon or if they’re even from American soldiers. He coughs-up another bit of blood and feels it all leaving him. 

John Carter jumps out of bed and gasps for air. Tarkas towers over him, all four of his green hands clasped behind his back. “Same dream?” 

John wipes the sleep from his eyes and reaches for his canteen. He opens the cap and the tiny room is filled with the pungent aroma of bootleg whisky. He sits on the edge of the bed and buries his head in his calloused and blood-stained hands. “What do you have for me today?” 

Tarkas rests his broadsword against the wall and sits on the floor. His massive frame causes the walls to rattle and a fine red dust to float down from the clay ceiling. “No killing today. Not yet, at least. The mystics want to see you.”


John has only met the mystics once, over several years ago, when he first appeared on Barsoom. They fixed his legs and his lung and patched up all of his wounds and left him in the care of Tarkas. John’s relatively small stature and incredible quickness (a gift bestowed upon him by Barsoom’s low gravity compared to Earth’s) made John an ideal assassin for the Tharks. He has since killed many Natives. It’s probably the only reason he’s still alive. 

John’s been persistent with his messages to the mystics, all of which have been ignored. Do you know how to get me home?  he’d have someone ask them on a daily basis.

He took their silence for a no.


The Hall of Thark isn’t much of hall at all. It’s more of a cave, hollowed out by Native slaves. The pearl table in the middle of the hall, where the mystics sit, is covered with compasses and magical knickknacks and pendulums and quasi-scientific bric-a-brac and holistic potions and a collection of Barsoom fauna and flora. Everything mystics need to look impressive.

The mystics are much smaller than the warrior class of Tharks but they’re still four times larger in both height and width than John. They look frail in their dusty black robes – it’s always bothered John. The mystics send the Tharks to war, dictate the rules, yet they’re genetically inferior to the warriors. It’s amazing how far having a direct line to the gods can get you in life.

“John Carter. Have a seat.” One of the mystics gestures towards a chair at the end of the table. The seat is just at John’s head – he would look weak sitting in it so he declines the offer.

“Do you know how to get me home?”

“In fact, we do, John Carter. Please have a seat.”


Tarkas waits for John in the war room. He is glowing as he strokes the small package in his hands. To him, it represents the end of war and setting things to right. To John, it represents the way home.

“Is that the Fire of Suns?”

“Is that what the mystics call it?”

“What am I to do with it?”

Tarkas hands the package to John ever so gently, and puts his massive hand on his old friends back. “You are to take it to the center of Helium and light this fuse. The Fire of Suns will explode into a great light, and it will burn all of Helium to the ground and forever rid Barsoom of our enemies.”

John looks at the package. It’s lighter than he thought it would be, a burlap sack stuffed with some type of noxious chemical. It feels hot in his hands. “And it’s supposed to take me home somehow?”

“That, my friend, is between you and the mystics.”


Jon has no problem sneaking around Helium. His size and speed makes it easy to dip into hiding spots and sprint around guards. It takes him several hours to get to the center of the city, the whole time keeping the Fire of Suns close to his chest.

He picks an inconspicuous spot several blocks from the statehouse, on top of a four story building as specified by the mystics. “Proper elevation is important,” the mystics told him, “without it you will never be transported home.” John doesn’t hesitate; he puts flame to fuse and sits next to the package, watching the fire spark as it moves along the windy length of chord.

He thinks of home. Will he end up back in Fallujah? Will he have to fight again? Could he end up back on Barsoom somehow? Or will he end up at his home in Mississippi with his wife and his kids. Sitting down for dinner amongst friends. Playing with the dog. Watching baseball. Paradise, compared to Fallujah.

The Fire of Suns ignites. There’s an explosion immediately followed by a flash. John sees none of this, his body is already gone.


Tarkas stands with the other warlords. Their swords are back home, they won’t be needed them today. They stare in silence as a giant plume mushrooms over the center of Helium. It is hell and destruction and flame, the Fire of Suns, the end of war. Slowly the people of Thark begin to rejoice. Cheers of revelry shoot through the crowd as kegs of mead are rolled out and giant beasts are spitted and hoisted over open flame.

Tarkas looks up to the heavens and says a prayer of thanks for his old friend. He turns to enjoy the celebration, having faith that John is celebrating back on his old world, in the arms of loved ones.

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