- “Sgt. Joe ‘Knack’ Kanaki” [Gene D.]-male Nisei Jasoomian (Japanese-American Terran human) tail gunner; two-fisted patriot who’s smarter than he looks
- “Beauregard ‘Bo’ Jennings” [Beruk A.]-male African-American Jasoomian, U.S.O. trumpet player, expatriate (NYC), former professional boxer and member of the French Foreign Legion
- “Kar Dalan (Kâr Dé-lan)” [Brian W.]-male aysismad (red Martian), an independent panthan (sellsword/scout) currently serving the nation of Raxar (Rax-âr)
- “Olera Gala” [Sara F.]-female Barsoomian masena (Thurian/Martian), one-eyed feline hunter and scout
- “Capt. Billy ‘Rip’ Rohrer” [Bruce K.]-male American Jasoomian pilot of the “Lucy Goosey,” a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
- “Betsy ‘Blaze’ Harper” [Rich C.G.]-female American Jasoomian, fiery redhead, former Olympic hopeful, and aspiring actress on USO tour for exposure and patriotic duty, along with Carla Rizena and Lucy McIntyre
[From the correspondence of Joseph Kanaki] “26 December 1943:” Dear Mother, I don’t know when and if you will get this note, but as I promised, I’m taking notes during my travels. Between the censors at the Air Force and those at your internment camp, who knows if you’ll ever get this? Still, there are moments when things make even less sense than usual.
The “Lucy Goosey,” our B-17F bomber, was assigned to Foggia, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. It has been a hard slog up the peninsula, but the infantry has it even worse, between the mud, the cold, and having a tough time telling friend from foe.
My commanding officer, Capt. William “Rip” Rohrer, is a standup guy. He always tells it straight to the men and understands our frequent need to blow off steam. Unfortunately, not every member of the brass is so relaxed. We got called into the strategy room at the air base. Black tarps had been thrown over the maps so we wouldn’t see more than we needed to.
Col. Frank Allen explained that we were to conduct “Operation Neapolitan.” We were initially disappointed at doing a milk run rather than a combat mission, but since it would count toward leave and such, nobody complained too loudly.
Apparently, Brig.Gen. Lawrence had requested specific U.S.O. entertainers for his birthday in Tunisia. We’d have no fighter escort and no bombs aboard, but we shouldn’t need any, Col. Allen said. I offered to check out our passengers and scrounge any extra supplies. You know me; if the skipper wants something, he can count on “Knack” to get it.
As I left the command tent, I ran into Lt. Merlin Shields, he of the thin mustache, superior attitude, and the “Pistol Packin’ Mamas.” I call his unit the “Mama’s Boys.” I know it’s puerile, but every jibe is worth it. Shields was oh so interested in our assignment but couldn’t help but get in a dig at our expense.
Anyway, I found trumpet player Bo Jennings playing poker in the officer’s mess. He had wasted no time since his arrival. His companions were just as interesting: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. Lucy McIntyre [Sara/Non-Player Character] was bubbly, Carla Rienza seemed interested only in learning if the officers were wealthy, and Betsy “Blaze” Harper was a real pip, one of the boys in manner, if not in looks.
Sometime later, we took off, turning over the Mediterranean. I helped the already restless passengers get secure, then headed to my gun in the tail. Capt. Rip had already pointed out the uncanny resemblance between Lucy and our nose art, which featured a famous duck pinching a pretty girl.
Up in the cockpit were Capt. Rohrer, newbie co-pilot Lt. Milton Dunlap Jr. [Brian/N.P.C.], and navigator Lt. Victor Frisbie. They were joined by bombardier Lt. Harvey Kramer, flight engineer Lt. Conrad Zufall, and radio operator Sgt. Eugene “Pick” Lydic. All good guys, but I think you can already guess why I’m noting all of them here.
Without bombs, it was up to me, ball turret gunner Sgt. Benji Moon, and waist gunners Sgts. Harry Houchins and Billy McMillan to keep an eye out for German or Italian attackers. What we did see was something else entirely — a foo fighter!
A huge aircraft with the rising sun glinting off its dragonfly-like wings overtook us. I warned the cockpit via intercom, and we made evasive maneuvers. It passed us again, and had numerous personnel on its ship-like decks. When I say “ship,” I mean a sea vessel like the one grandfather sailed. We gained altitude and came about.
The strange airship didn’t look like anything I’d seen before, but we tried to get closer, since it seemed to be struggling to stay in the air. Crazy Rip Rohrer tried to get himself killed as we lowered a cargo net to bring up evacuees. So of course, I had to go after him, but only after warning our crew and passengers to be ready for anything.
The men we brought aboard were underdressed, with reddish complexions and tattoos. They didn’t look or sound like Bedouin, but what did I know? An older man was trying to manipulate some device, which we grabbed. There was a blinding flash.
You’ll never believe this, but try to keep an open mind about what I write next. They say war does strange things to a man’s perceptions, but I don’t know any shell shock that can explain what I’ve seen, but here goes: We suddenly found ourselves flying over an unearthly desert.
The “Lucy Goosey” flew over some ruins. I thought it was too soon to see North Africa, but with all the fuss over the rescue operation, nobody had time to double-check our course. We clipped a white spire, and something heavy hit the top of our plane.
Rip and I managed to get the crew of the airship aboard our bomber, and we quickly cut the netting loose. Unfortunately, it was our turn to have difficulty, and we crashed into the sands outside the ancient city. We lost Milton, Harvey, Conrad, Victor, and Benji. Like I said, all good men.
After much pantomime, we learned that the old guy with the device was Thuran Gan, an isvar [is-vâr], which we later learned meant “ray scientist.” The red men (not to be confused with American Indians) passed around a flask, and we finally started to understand one another. Don’t ask me how; I sure didn’t make the rules out there.
Kar Dalan, a mercenary scout, joined us. He noted that there were four green men at the gates of the city. That sounded reasonable, except for the name of the place — Barsoom [Bâr-süm], or the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books. Blaze and I had read some of them, but pulp science fiction was now as real as the half-naked men and wrecked airship hanging above us!
The red men knew of John Carter of Virginia, whom we had assumed was a fictional character. They claimed that another from Jasoom [Ĵâ-süm], or Earth, had come around the time of the Great War — Vad Varo, now in Duhor [Dü-ōr]. I was either dead or going to have one hell of a headache in the morning. Blaze looked for javelins or spears.
A strange beast jumped from atop our downed bird. It looked like a large cat with a cyclopean eye. Kar introduced her as Olera Gala, a masena [mâ-sēn-â]. They had been sent to explore the dead city by Vora, the chief madvar [mad-vâr] of the Raxar [Rax-âr] Academy of Science.
Lucky for us, the city wasn’t entirely empty, as Olera reported seeing the yellow eyes of predatory banths [ban-iŧ] lurking in the dusty streets. Rip and Bo took advantage of the low Barsoomian gravity to jump great distances. The Olympics would sure be different here. The air was thin and cold, but it didn’t seem to bother us.
Four green men rode up on thoats [ŧōt]. I’m not sure which looked stranger, the 12-foot-tall, four-armed humanoids or their rhino-like steeds. They recommended that we seek shelter and said something about an ambassador between their tribe and Raxar, with whom they had a truce. Great, we’re in some other world or dimension, and it’s also at war.
Another airship arrived, bearing the purple banner of Raxar. Teedwar [Tē-dwr] (Col.) Kal Dan talked with Rip, Kar, and Thuran, and they agreed to take us back to their city. The Banzar [Ban-zâr], a huge vessel capable of holding 1,000 troops, towed the “Lucy Goosey,” with our surviving crew and passengers still inside. Rip and Bo jumped around for a while.
The city-state of Raxar was a sight to behold, with bustling streets, strangely beautiful red-skinned residents, and numerous flying craft. Everyone was on a war footing, with even children carrying short swords.
We were taken to the academy, where we met the following people:
- Orad Rel, aavar [â-vâr] or head of the institute
- Kan Baniv, povar [pō-vâr] or theoretical physicist
- Essa Naxa, soomvar [süm-vâr] or planetologist
- Tan Orml, morvar [mōr-vâr] or biologist
- Vora, the aforementioned madvar, or anthropologist
They all seemed happy to see us, since John Carter had once saved their city, leading to the treaty with the green men of Zarquad [Zâr-kwd]. The ambassador of Zarquad was one Torog, and the jed [ĵed] or king of Raxar was Daris Nar, related by marriage to other rulers.
Kan Baniv (the nephew of Vobia, the jeda [ĵed-â], arranged for us to have a royal audience. At the audience, we were introduced to the royal family, including the jed’s two daughters, Daria and Teeza. Emar Radtai, a nobleman whose gem mines had made him wealthy, was openly staring at Daria. We also caught Kal Dan stealing glances at Teeza. The jed’s two sons were killed in the last war. Apparently there is a middle daughter, Phainara, who is missing.
After initial conversations with the scientists, we Earthlings changed into Barsoomian harnesses and loincloths and debated what to do. Capt. Rip Rohrer wanted to offer our services to the jed, and Bo understandably wanted to stay, since he had little waiting for him back stateside. The red men called Bo a “First Born,” or Ee-ay [Ē-é] apparently from distant Kamtol, their own nation of black men.
I argued that we should look for a way home and maybe try to bring some Barsoomian stuff back with us to help the war effort. Imagine the look on Hitler’s face if he saw the Banzar with allied paratroopers! At least we agreed to keep our gear and people together for now. Me and the other gunners will take turns watching the “Lucy Goosey.”
We asked about Martian customs and learned the following four traditions:
- Attar [ât-târ]: Literally “loyal sword.” To cast your sword at the feet of a fellow Barsoomian is the pledge your loyalty and trust to that person, even though it may cost you your life. If a man does this to a woman, it can be interpreted as a declaration of courtship. If the recipient is a man, he signals acceptance by reattaching the belt to the owner’s harness. A woman returns the sword, hilt first. To leave the sword where it lies is to refuse the offer. To return it point first is a rejection and insult. This means an immediate duel (if a woman, her closest male relative champions her.)
- Dartos [dâr-tōs]: Literally “thousand bond.” The proposal of marriage among the red men, which symbolically is to last 1,000 years. A mate must be fought for and won.
- Koak [kō-ak]: Literally “equal battle.” In private combat, you may not fight a fellow warrior in with any other than the weapon you were attacked. You may choose a weapon of lower status though. To draw a pistol on an enemy facing you with a sword is unpardonable.
- Visha [vē-a]: Literally “virgin forbidden.” Barsoomian men do not ask personal questions of women, except for his mother and the woman he has fought for and won (i.e. dartos). Royal women of the courts of Mars are deemed sacred even touching them without permission has dire consequences for the transgressor.
Before the audience, Kar Dalan pulled a few of us aside to warn us to beware of making pacts too quickly. He was from a different nation of red men and had sold his services to Raxar. I agreed that it would be best for us to find out more and to share as little as possible about ourselves. I also asked him to help train us in swordplay, since blades were as common as rifles on Barsoom.
Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men…. Not only did Rip offer his allegiance to Daris Nar, but we’ve also already got a mission! I sure hope the skipper knows what he’s doing….