Tangor 2003

Ras Thavas:
The Great Ape

John Barnes


Cover Illustration: Tangor


Ras Thavas and the Calot Series: Created by David Bruce Bozarth, Managing Editor


"I would like to do some hunting." Ras Thavas gathered his weapons and a pack. "Are you up for it?"

The calot rose and stretched, still drowsy from sleeping in the rectangle of sunlight through the window of their apartment. "Do I have a choice? Where do you intend to go?"

"Just into the swamps near our home."

"To the place where you found me as a babe?"

"Near there. We will go farther on than that."

"The calot part of me is happy to be going out at all. We have done nothing since we returned from Faz. All you have done is meet with the city manager and the officers and the department heads."

"We have been away from Thavas quite some time, Thasa Ras. There was much to catch up."

The walk through the city was short, the guard at the gate was respectful. Down the paved section of the path to the small boats, which had been installed recently, they passed the spot were Ras Thavas had found Thasa Ras. He pointed it out to her. "This is the place were I found you, dear, newly hatched."

"Why do you think my mother abandoned me?"

"We will never know the answer to that, Thasa Ras, but it was a gift to me. I had begun to get lonely with only science to keep me company and the gift of raising you is something I will never forget or regret. You were so sweet in those younger days."

"Am I not so sweet now?"

"I am afraid that I spoiled you with too much learning."

"And so you punish me with this calot body?"

"I am not sure what I can teach you now, Thasa Ras, but it was the only way to keep you out of trouble without killing you. Do you still want to rule Barsoom?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, but we should do it together!" The brief hint of excitement in that thought was instantly dashed with her husband's remorseful reply.

"I once had dreams like that. No good came from any of them because such things have a price. Who rules Barsoom now?"

"The Jeds and Jeddaks of Helium, I suppose."

"They do not rule Barsoom, but they do rule a very powerful nation. For every prince of Helium there are dozens others in every nation of Barsoom who think they are better suited."

"The Heliumites rule with good order, considering the state of things."

"Yes--for the most part that is true--however; for every dozen good men there is at least one bad. Would you and I rule any better?"

"We would have the rule of science and logic, husband. Who cares how they rule when we can rule so much better!"

"Barsoom is a dying planet. It will support only so much life. That is partly why we war against each other. We need alliances and understanding, not hordes of manufactured servants that would be required to enforce such rule."

"We can make them to be whatever we want. You saw how well I created!"

"And slew the abomination immediately. You knew the restrictions."

"I exercised what you had taught me. He was nothing to me. His loss means nothing to me as he was just a fabrication."

Ras Thavas scowled. "If that is your attitude, then I suggest more contemplation, for I assure I am not happy that his death is on my hands."

The master mind entered the small boat moored at the lower landing on the south side of Thavas. The craft was powered by an air propeller inside a cage of metal. The boat was of shallow draft, a creation of the artisans of Thavas to assist in the management of the Tonoolian Marsh ecology. The motor, powered by the magnetic field of Barsoom, and thus nearly perpetual in fuel, was near silent in operation and capable of very high speed in open channels. The nimble craft could even cross mudbanks or weed-choked waterways.

Thasa Ras occupied the bow, her keen sense of smell intrigued by the many unusual odors. Mud, bottom decay, the scent of wild gloresta bushes on the islands they passed--animals familiar and unfamiliar. She grudgingly thought of what her husband had said.

By noon they entered a wide body of shallow water that was several hundred ads wide and, Ras Thavas announced, was more than a hundred haads in length. "Does it have a name?" the calot asked.

"I do not know of one, though I suppose at one time when humans occupied most of these islands it might have had one."

"I shall name it," Thasa Ras replied. "This waterway is now dubbed the Big Wide Shallow Channel."

Ras Thavas laughed.

"Where are we going?" Thasa Ras asked as the sun moved toward the horizon.

"The largest of the islands in the Tonoolian Marsh. I have flown over it many times on trips to Morbus or Phundahl. Over the last three hundred years the level of the marsh has dropped two ads, which change in level connected many of the islands together."

"Bigger than Thavas?"

"Ten or more times larger, and the tallest of the islands as well, so tall it might have been an island in the ocean 220,000 years ago."

The big, wide, shallow channel narrowed to a strip of dark water only twenty ads in width. Overhead fronds and vegetation began to close over the waterway. Ras Thavas maintained his high speed, even though the calot became increasingly nervous at how rapidly the growth on the bank passed and how the waterway continued to diminish in width. The light was not as certain.

"Is it wise to continue at this pace?" Thasa Ras asked.

"We are almost there. I want to arrive with enough light to locate a secure camp. Otherwise we would have to sleep in the boat tonight."

The channel began to exhibit a number of turns which caused the master mind to slow the boat's progress, yet, a half zode before sundown they entered a small lake a haad wide by five haads long. Thasa Ras raised her eyes toward the northern shore where a ridge of verdure-cloaked land soared near two hundred ads in height. Ras Thavas made directly to that shore, locating a section that had a grassy area rather than dense growth. The hull of the airboat rumbled slightly as it encountered small size pebbles coated with a light layer of silt.

"Tomorrow we explore and hunt."


By mid-morning the next day the master mind and the calot neared the central summit. Ras Thavas had collected a number of unusual flora specimens along the way, Thasa Ras had killed and consumed a darseen to suppliment the breakfast Ras Thavas had provided from their provisions, though she did give her husband the succulent tail for his lunch.

"Something is odd," the scientist remarked as they neared the highest part of the island. "Do you see it?"

"That there is something regular underneath all that growth?"

"Exactly! Let us see what we can find!"

Ras Thavas' excitement increased as they located a small village of stone buildings which the vegetation had reclaimed. Many of the buildings had collapsed because roots had, over the centuries, undid the work of the masons, but a few were still intact. After hacking his way into several, the master mind remarked: "The architecture appears to be consistent with sites that are 200,000 years old."

"There is also this," Thasa Ras said, gently head-butting her husband deeper into the building. "If I read this correctly we are in the house of Tur."

The scientist produced a hand light from his harness and uncovered the radium bulb. The back wall had a fairly extensive bas-relief of a man at a table with stylus in hand, young men and women at his feet, and inscriptions around the border.

The two keen minds studied the inscriptions and argued between them as to the meanings. There was one common oral language on Barsoom, but the written languages were extraordinarly diverse.

Thasa Ras said, "We both recognize dozens of words found in current day Phundahlian writing, but so much of this is gibberish!"

"The Turgan also appears to have been written a 100,000 years earlier than the Phundahalians believe. How so easy is it for humans to deceive themselves."

"Quiet!" Thasa Ras turned and raced to the entrance. "Someone is out there!"

Off a little ways beyond the clearing near the village they heard singing. Cautiously, they explored, but for all they could see, there was only a great white ape in view. Ras Thavas gripped his radium pistol.

"Where is he, Thasa Ras?"

"There is no human, husband. It is the white ape that sings."

Ras Thavas drew back slightly, frowning.

"Why do you shudder at the sight of a great white ape? You are well armed and he does not spy us yet."

"Listen to his song. Can you make out the words?"

Thasa Ras listened then reported: "He is singing a love song to his princess. But that is impossible. The great white apes do not speak our tongue."

Ras Thavas placed his arm around the calot's massive neck. "That white ape is either a mutant unknown to us or," he spoke with a rush, "one of my early brain transplant experiments. I performed a dozen or more human/white ape experiments. A handful of those creatures escaped."

"Well, you learned much science in the process. Shall we go over to him and talk to him to learn more?"

"That is a chilling thought. What if he recognizes me? I am sure the fellow cannot be happy with his state, and since the destruction of Old Thavas there is no way I can return him to his original body. He would probably tear me limb from limb because his body was given to another. I made much profit by doing such things to fund my research, back when I was mad and senile. Who knows how much else lingers from those by gone days?"

"You're scaring me, Ras Thavas. You have told me almost nothing of these things. I thought I knew everything there was to know about you."

"Perhaps I erred in keeping the things I am not proud of away from you. For you have grown up thinking that all science is good and put to good causes and so you have not learned the caution which many years of success and mistakes have taught me. And because of that failure to communicate I have you for a calot companion. Let us go over and talk to this ape. Perhaps there is something I can still yet do to atone for my past excesses."

"If the ape attacks, husband. I will kill it!"

Ras Thavas gripped his wife's mane. "I do not have a death wish, Thasa Ras. If it comes to that I will kill the creature myself."

Remaining concealed in the brush, they approached the singing ape, which appeared to be gathering fruit! Ras Thavas frowned yet again, white apes were carnivores.

From a clump of glorestra bushes the master mind called out. "Kaor! Beautiful singing!"

The white ape looked up, surprised. The giant creature assumed a guarded pose, his four upper limbs tensed for action, though the club in the lower right hand was not raised. His speech was garbled but discernable. "If you give such warning rather than death, we may talk. Humans do not speak to white apes. Certainly not with hope of getting words back."

"Because you speak and sing I am curious. Is the white ape evolving?"

"I know that word, but I would see you before I reply."

Ras Thavas rose from his crouch behind the glorestra. He stepped into the small clearing. "I have a calot with me. She will not harm you unless I am attacked."

"You are a strange man. Humans always kill apes first. The calot may come. If it comes to it I can kill it and kill you, too."

When Thasa Ras padded into view she took a position a dozen ads to her husband's left, thus not presenting either of them as easy targets for the white ape's huge club. The white ape continued speaking.

"He rebuilt the old city. I keep looking for him but I never find him. He was so old then, he cannot still be alive."

"You did not answer my question," the master mind gently admonished.

"The white apes are evolved, but not like the other sentient beings of Barsoom."

"How is it that you can speak to humans?" Ras Thavas asked, already knowing the answer.

"He was a physician and sold my body to another then put my brain in this creature. He made tests. He poked and prodded. He made notes. He did other things. Then he put me in a menagerie and we white ape experiments broke out, killed the guards, and hid in the swamp."

"What happened then?"

"Nothing. No one came after us. It was a long time before we came here where we found other white apes and because we were smarter we became kings and took all the shes. I should kill you, human."

"Why?" Ras Thavas calmly gestured to restrain the calot.

"I have made no attempt to harm you. I enjoyed your singing."

"Humans kill apes. That is enough."

"I can help," Ras Thavas replied. "I can make this island a preserve and see to it that no humans ever come here again."

The ape's attitude changed slightly, the human brain thinking furiously. "Why would you do that?"

"I will tell you," the master mind said. "I urge you to think about what I say very carefully, because no one should die today."

The huge white ape's face contained a number of expressions as it pondered the man's words. "I cannot make that promise until I hear what you have to say."

"I am Ras Thavas. I cannot undo what I did to you, but I can keep this island yours."

The ape stiffened. At the same instant Thasa Ras bared her teeth, tensed for a charge. Ras Thavas' hand touched the grip of his radium pistol.

The moments passed like an eternity, then the ape said: "I will talk to my brothers in body. I will meet you here at dawn."

"Agreed."


Thasa Ras did not sleep that night. Her senses were alert to every breeze, rustle of leaf, or splash of water in the lake. Ras Thavas slept on the boat, but did not sleep that well. Before dawn they began the long climb to the summit and the clearing near the house of Tur. There were four white apes waiting and none seemed surprised that Ras Thavas had his radium pistol in hand.

"We will not attack," the white ape of yesterday said.

"I believe you," Ras Thavas returned, "but if it does not offend you, I will hold my weapon." Though the master mind lowered the the deadly weapon's muzzle to the debris covering the clearing.

"Ras Thavas, if that is who you are because you do not look like the man who put my brain in this body, we are happy with our lives and our shes and if we can avoid humans then we are most happy." He paused to see if there was any reaction. The ape continued.

"I once wanted to be human more than anything and would have done anything to achieve that. I was lost all my life because I had chosen to be an assassin and thief and thus wasted my life. All I had was a handsome appearance that someone paid to obtain. But in this body, in this marsh and islands I have found friends."

The brow of Ras Thavas puckered.

The ape's lips split in an expression that was meant to be a grin, but exposed horrific teeth and made the beast appear menacing. "Oh, yes, there are many here who are my friends. The wild apes speak a different tongue than humans but they speak nonetheless--and we are Jeddaks of all we see. But we are defenseless against human weapons. The price of your survival is your promise to keep this island inviolate."

At those words forty or more white apes emerged from every direction, surronding Ras Thavas and the calot. Ras Thavas holstered his pistol and walked to Thasa Ras' side and placed a calming hand on her mane. The calot did not relax, but did not immediately leap into a battle that could not be won.

"I would not have made the offer if I could not keep it. I can offer dozens of useless reasons why I was so driven and out of control when your minds were transplanted. Useless, every one of them. I cannot restore your bodies. It also seems that you do not have any great desire to return to human society. I can, and I will, guarantee that Thavas will protect this island, you tribe, this marsh. We of Thavas do no evil these days. That is all."

The white ape made a gesture that reduced the threat from the apes, and laid down his club. The immense beast approached Ras Thavas and stopped at a distance appropriate to be not threatening but close enough the two could speak privately. "For a hundred years I hated you. For all the years since I have been grateful because I have a life that no human has ever experienced and my brain has protected this tribe of apes. They are amazing creatures, Ras Thavas."

"And you are an amazing person. I do not deserve your gratitude, but you have my promise that THIS place, will be protected--and that you and your council must dictate how much human presence from Thavas is allowed."

The great white ape then made a human gesture, offering his upper right arm for the handshake of warriors. Man and beast gripped each other's forearms.


A week later the Thavas patrol station with three fliers and thirty warriors was installed on the island opposite the lake. The station was supplimented by a similar size contingent from Phundhal, mostly clerics who were part of the cost and support for the maintainence of the preserve protection in exchange for three days annually to investigate the ruins surrounding the House of Tur, as it was now called.

Thasa Ras sported along the water's edge of the station island, nipping at leapers and other creatures, enjoying the brilliant sunshine and her husband walking through the short grasses. The calot tired of her games and came close, bumping into Ras Thavas' legs.

"See? Science is not bad. As the ape said, it all worked out! Put me back in my body, Ras Thavas! Let us talk and plan. Thavas can rule..."

"Did you learn nothing, Thasa Ras?"

"What do you mean? It is all clear: science, our brand of science, can make us the most powerful rulers Barsoom has ever seen."

Ras Thavas found a storm toppled skeel tree trunk to sit upon. Thasa Ras came up between his legs and nudged her snout into his stomach. The master mind fiercely rubbed that sensitive area between her eyes, giving her eye-closing pleasure, then gripped her jaw, his fingers laid over her teeth, and harshly shook the creature's head.

"What was his name, Thasa Ras?" Her husband shook that heavy jaw a second time. "What was his name?"

"He never said!"

"That is because he cannot remember! I failed, my princess. My science may not be as special as you think, and I fear that if you do not come to terms with the errors of your ways that one day you will merely be a calot with human attributes! Do not break my heart, again!"

Thasa Ras watched her husband walk away, his back straight and unyielding. When he disappeared in the foliage her eyes looked across the lake where the white apes, on the shore, beat their chests in warning and then, like ghosts, one by one, vanished between the trees of the protected island's dense growth.

* * * * *

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