David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2003
Cover Illustration: Kurt Jacobson
Copyright © 2001
Thasa Ras left the apartment she shared with her husband, the master mind of Barsoom. She went down the ramps of the tower into the streets of the New City of Thavas. Her ten legs pumped with furious anger because she could never forget her brain was in the body of Barsoom's most successful predator, the calot, nor could she could forget that she had betrayed her husband and his science. Rather than killing her for adultry and betrayal Ras Thavas had transplanted her brain into the body of his favored hunting calot.
For what seemed too many years she had been the faithful pet at the side of the master mind. At first she entertained killing her husband for transplanting her into the body of an animal, particularly an animal that was more feared in the wild than banths or white apes, but she knew that he was the only one who could return her brain to her body.
The master mind of Barsoom intended that she learn from her mistakes, and Thasa Ras frequently avowed she had learned the errors of her ways even as they traveled and adventured and survived Barsoom. Ras Thavas was not moved by her assurances of reformation, thus the couple most odd frequently argued--argued in a silence that no other telepathic sentients of Barsoom could hear.
The night was dark. The moons were not visible which made the darkness more complete. The familiar argument had not ended any happier than a half-hundred other discussions. Thasa Ras raced down the ramps of the master mind's tower, her tower as well--back when she was his human wife!--and she pushed her way through the foot traffic between the Hall of Art and Hall of First Care. Anger and rage revisited too many times narrowed Thasa Ras' thoughts. "I am done!"
Thasa Ras raced through the night-time streets of the New City of Thavas. Pedestrians had no opportunity to get out of her way, though all were startled by the calot. The body Thasa Ras wore had more reflexes and speed than any human, any of the ten limbs could be a pivot point to change direction, yet speed was never diminished. The calot was a hunting calot, one of the largest of the species known, her husband's favorite, and now her brain was in that favorite!
Hunting. She had done that at his side when Ras Thavas went into the Toonlian Marsh with bow and arrow, perhaps sword, sometimes a radium rifle. Risking his life against the savage world of the marsh, and never could she allow that! If Ras Thavas died before Thasa Ras could convince him to put her brain back into her human body stored in a secret vault below the New City of Thavas she would be lost. So she hunted, tasting blood from his kills. Sometimes tasting blood from kills she made to protect him. At other times tasting blood from kills she could make of her own. Sometimes as she shredded a throat or broke a neck with a savage bite she thought of her inflexible husband, the man who put her brain in the body of a beast.
Thasa Ras deliberately shook off thoughts tumultuous as she neared the southern gate, the gate where she and Ras Thavas often left the city to hunt the marshes and nearby islands. The two guards at the gate recognized the great calot and one was bold enough to give Thasa Ras a scratch between the eyes. She endured--the scratch felt good and it was not unusual that the wonder calot of Ras Thavas left the city on her own. After the affection neither impeded the calot's exit from the city, and gave no more thought of it because the calot of Ras Thavas was nearly as famous as the master mind himself.
Thasa Ras went to the water's edge, the muck and mud of the shoreline sucking at her feet. Less than sixty ads to the south was a mud bank with a fringe of vegetation. The water was less than an ad in depth. She walked to the mud bank and paused, looking back to the high concrete walls surrounding the New City. Near one of those walls she had hatched, abandoned by an unknown mother and found by Ras Thavas. He had raised her, gave her every opportunity. She had admired him, admired his knowledge. She came to believe she loved him and made the master mind her husband.
The mud bank had a rank smell, the debris of dead parts of the ecology being reconstituted into nutrients to support the living ecology. Thasa Ras turned her back to the New City. The water between the mud bank and the next nearest island was deep, a swift current flowed throug that channel.
Thasa Ras swam across the channel, allowing the current to carry her well to the east of New City. The island first intended was missed, but another island, one of the many thousands in the Toonolian Marsh, became a landfall.
Having come this far, the woman in the calot's body made a decision she had not know had been made until the determination came full bloom. "I will never get my human body back. Ras Thavas will never trust me again. I will no longer be his pet calot!"
The island was rapidly crossed and in the next channel the woman eagerly leaped into the water, swimming south to yet another island. The process repeated many times, often with the calot either taking as prey small silians or battling the larger silians of the marsh. By dawn Thasa Ras was fifty haads from New City and resting under the thick fronds of a glorestra bush.
At noon the woman stretched her animal body and continued her southern journey. The marsh was alive, but the desert lands of Barsoom is where she wished to be. Three days later she stood on the southern shore of the Toonolian Marsh, a vast vista of moss, sand, and exposed bedrock rising upward to the horizon. The Toonolian Marsh was all that was left of one of the five great oceans of ancient Barsoom, and somewhere on the slopes of this immense basin she would find her life.
"If I cannot have my life back," she said to herself haad after haad, "then I will not have a life as Ras Thavas' pet!"
A week long trip into the upper slopes convinced Thasa Ras that food was too difficult to find. She returned to the near slopes of the great marsh which stretched between Toonol to Phundahl. She dined on darseen sunning on rocks. She gnawed mantalia plants--something calots in the wild never did--knowing the milk of these plants would provide nutrients that flesh alone could not provide. She ate usa from trees as well as fruits and nuts but what she liked most of all was the tender sweet flesh of silians of the marsh, which were prodigeous in number and swarmed the shallows.
Battles with banths, the Barsoomian lion, were occasional, yet she never lost a battle because her brain provided an advantage which offset the banth's greater strength. In her jaws were three rows of teeth designed to rend flesh from bones, her body was compact and strong, and only the thoat could cover ground more swiftly.
"If I cannot be a woman, then I will be the best of the creatures!"
Though she was strong and savage, Thasa Ras did not kill without reason. Food or battle, and it was not until many days later that she wondered about that, for one of the reasons why she had created artificial life--a lover--was to advance her dreams of ruling Barsoom. Ras Thavas had gently, too many times, ignored her suggestions over the years that they could rule the world with his scientific knowledge and hers most recently accquired from him. They had no equals on Barsoom, none. Powerful were her jaws, her brain set her apart from the beasts. She ruled this part of Barsoom...and for what?
Thasa Ras continued to range to the east, but not quite as eagerly as her initial decision to leave Ras Thavas. The realities of life occupied her waking thoughts. Weeks passed. She no longer sought confrontations with the predators of the southern shore. She tried to forget the half-dozen calots she had killed--especially the male calot which had sought to mate with her. She had considered it, the calot was majestic compared to other calots. She allowed mating to begin, then suddenly and savagely turned and killed the male calot during a raging rush of shame.
Thasa Ras sobbed over the remains of the male calot. "I tried that once with a lover created from a vat. Ras Thavas rightly slew that lover. Why did I allow this lover, beast that he is, the opportunity?"
Thasa Ras knew. She missed the intimacy. She knew without thinking that the intimacy she had shared with Ras Thavas would never return. She had defiled their marriage. How could he ever trust her again?
"Well," Thasa Ras said to herself, half-believing, "he cannot because his mind is made up, so..."
She did not know what the "so" was and turned away from the bloody carcass of the male calot.
Her pride was such that Thasa Ras could not turn back her path, nor again cross the marsh to the New City of Thavas. She knew her husband would never return her to her body and anger filled her thoughts whenever she thought of the man who had caressed her body so tenderly when they married. Contempt filled her next as she obtained his knowledge of science and medicene. Repugnance came after, he was a thousand and more years older than she and his mind was occupied with past events rather than the possibilities of now. Shame was the most difficult and troubling thoughts Thasa Ras dealt with. She had loved Ras Thavas, she lured him, learned from him, and then betrayed him--there was no doubt regarding the betrayal. At the moment he caught her creating artificial life, a lover, Ras Thavas slew the creature and put her brain in the calot's body.
"I love you," Ras Thavas said when Thasa Ras awoke in her new body. The master mind also said, presenting his chest and throat: "You have a body that is the instrument of your revenge. Kill me, Thasa Ras, for I have failed."
The nightmare of that day was never far from the calot's thoughts. She could have killed him! But there was only one other on Barsoom who might return her brain to her body--if that body could be found in the secret vaults below the New City of Thavas--and he would not do it any more than her husband would.
Preoccupied by her thoughts, Thasa Ras failed to note the trap consisting of nets suspended in the high growth. As soon as the nets fell upon her powerful body she struggled to free herself, but to no avail. A chorus of wild shouts rose, jubiliant and savage, as a dozen green men emerged from the trees.
"A fine calot!" one of the six-limbed nomads exclaimed. "Worthy of the games!"
The nets were drawn tight. One of her captors lashed a thick rope about Thasa Ras' snout. "Impressive female calot. Might keep her."
"Impressive indeed, but larger calots we do not need. Arena fare."
Thasa Ras struggled against the nets to such extent that several parted and just as she was about to get free one of the green men crashed the shaft of a long spear over her skull.
The cage on the wagon was large enough to hold an adult green man, which meant Thasa Ras could take three steps, turn, and take three steps and turn. She quickly tired of that exercise after she regained conciousness, but when riders on monstrous thoats on either side of the zitidar-drawn three-wheeled wagon pricked her with metal-tipped spears though the bars of the cage she angrily complied, pacing and hissing, snarling whenever a spear was sent in her direction. Her jaws broke one of those spears and she was cruely pricked by a half-dozen more for that effort.
Once a week Thasa Ras was provided a rank haunch of thoat. Night or day she was pelted by rocks, clumps of moss, sand, or prodded with spears or swords. Her back and legs were scored by dozens of minor wounds from numerous attacks. Thasa Ras understood the cruelty and had once thought herself as being that callous and unfeeling towards others as she experimented, learned, and created artificial life. She understood her captors' agenda; yet, at the same time, she succumbed to the deliberate degradation desired by the green tribe of Qathor: Thasa Ras became vicious and almost mindless.
The crumpled towers of the dead city barely etched the horizon as the three hundred strong tribe of Qathor traversed a slope into the small city's plaza. When the oceans of Mars ruled the planet's surface perhaps ten thousand had inhabited the city--one of the desperate "new cities" which attempted to follow the receding oceans. As the wagons bumped through the rubble in the streets, Thasa Ras watched--and spit and savaged the bars of the cage as the continual taunts and prods of spears and blades scored her body."
"Lively!" one of the Qathor warriors grinned. "Much betting!"
That one, Thasa Ras thought to herself, gazing balefully at her tormentor, is two meals starting with his... The wagon bounced as it drew up before a more imposing edifice, a coliseum of modest proportions, perhaps intended for five-thousand spectators. Her cage was removed from the wagon and Thasa Ras made every effort to bite the hands that carried her below. She failed in all attacks and received more injury and abuse for the effort.
"I am not an animal!" Thasa Ras reminded herself. She remained as small and non-threatening as possible as the cage was taken to a level below the street, deep into the heart of the arena. The Qathor laughed as they slammed the cage to the ground and departed. One of the green men remarked, laughing, "I almost wish that she-calot had tried one more time. I am hungry!"
The darkness suited Thasa Ras' revelation, one that had been a long time coming. "Food or fun, that's all I am!"
One of the green men came during the night. He tossed chunks of thoat meat through the bars. Thasa Ras had two choices, eat or not. Her human brain realized that any health was better than no health. She ate.
The next morning her cage was carried into the sun and placed on the sands of the small arena. Food was again given, then whips and spears beat her. Then more food was given, but she did not eat the second time. The green men laughed. "A very smart calot! Her food is what she kills today."
Other cages were brought from below. Banths. Calots. A sith that had clipped wings. White apes. The Qathor warriors picked up the cages and rammed them into the others, causing the creatures within to focus on the caged animals, all of which were either prey or predators. Thasa Ras needed no blueprint for her future. She was to be pitted against these creatures for the amusement of the green horde.
Ras Thavas' wife saw that she was not the only "creature" being tormented. Dozens of calculated assaults that minorly injured were made against all the caged beasts. Fighting. Life or death. She was not ready to die; therefore, she took all opportunity to observe possible foes.
Thasa Ras survived day one of the games.
Day two, three.
Aching in every bone and muscle Thasa Ras wondered how much longer she could survive. The matches were intense, the betting furious. Other green martians, lesser tribes that came to the games because of the violence and wagering, continued the depravity and waste by bringing more creatures to the arena. The predators of the marsh lands were precious thought the scientist in the calot's body, the scientist that fought savagely to stay alive during each arena foray. Thasa Ras realized the captured creatures which died in these games were adults and would never create the next generation of natural predators for the Toonolian Marsh, a slip too far one way, too far the other, would result in irreparable harm to the ecology. Thasa Ras remembered her concern as she brutally killed the next creature set upon her. Death was not her choice and the ecology of the Toonolian Marsh was not a high priority.
Thasa Ras triumphed, but with each succeeding battle and success the fierce Qathor booed each time she lived. The wonder calot continually deprived them of the great humor of death! Day after day; banths, calots, siths, even silians ten times her body weight, but Thasa Ras did not survive without a scratch. Her flanks were scored of attacks by banths and calots and many had become infected; her third-left leg was broken a week earlier by a white ape that tossed her across the arena and then perished as her jaws ripped out the creature's throat. Some of the green men cheered her, others did not, but all turned against the famous fighting calot the day a red man with a sword was sent against her.
Thasa Ras looked upon the young man. She sensed the racing of his heart as he looked into the crowd above the arena. The young man saw the dark faces over the wall, the sand of the arena, the powerful and compact body of the largest calot he had ever seen. His sword rose en garde, then paused.
The wife of the master mind of Barsoom turned away from the red man. She watched, not trusting anything at all, but made no move to attack the human the way all wild calots would have done.
"Fight, calot! Fight, calot!" the horde of Qathor howled. "Fight, calot!"
Thasa Ras ignored the green men. Holding her body low to the ground, her jaw just inches from the sand, she approached the red man, who watched with amazement as the huge calot came to his side then hissed at the crowd.
"We die, calot," the red man courageously cried as cages were opened and predators rushed toward the pair. "I do not know why you fight with me but--"
The red man killed a small sith and a calot. A banth's jaws snapped shut on his head and left shoulder. Thasa Ras disemboweled a white ape, broke the neck of a second banth, then killed the banth that had terminated the red man. Knowing fully what she did, Thasa Ras proceeded to eat the banth that killed the red man. Her jaws dripped with blood as the green men howled with laughter.
"We have no betting on the calot," one of the green men said to another as Thasa Ras was fed in her cage in the pits below the arena. "Tonight is the final battle. The calot will die, but the bets will be which of the creatures kill her first, but she will die." The green man kicked the cage. Thasa Ras hissed appropriately in response.
The future had narrowed to nothing. Thasa Ras thought her choice to leave Ras Thavas to be queen of the beast kingdom was ill-advised--as ill-advised as her secretive experiments in creating life or her ill-advised scorn to the only man she had truly known and loved her without question. At dusk she would die fighting beasts of the marsh and desert. She would die, never achieving any of her dreams. She would die having turned her back on the master mind's dreams. She would die. And dying would be better than this hell of life.
Thasa Ras prepared herself.
Torches and lamps were lit around the arena, casting a ghastly glow on the accumlated sands. The green martians cheered and laughed lustily at the opening combats of other creatures. In her cage, Thasa Ras conserved her strength, which was not as great as it had once been. She did not feel fit, and perhaps that was because of all the mistreatment and injuries.
"The calot!" came the cry as her cage was brought forward. "The calot!"
It was Thasa Ras' turn to amuse the green horde but this time a warm bucket of thoat blood was poured on her body to insure the banths and calots would seek her first before battling each other--the blood scent was strong and even affected her own animal shell with a hunt lust. Spears and harsh laughter prodded the calot from her cage into the arena.
Defiant, Thasa Ras glared at the green spectators who had no comprehension that a human brain resided in the calot's body standing before them. From the other side of the arena cages were opened and three banths and three calots were released, all snarling and hissing against the artificial light, but their noses instantly detected the scent of warm blood.
A whirlwind of animal assaults commenced. Thasa Ras adroitly eluded two attacks and maimed one of the attackers, then was backed against the arena wall as the creatures re-grouped and advanced.
Suddenly a harsh brilliant light burst from the sky, illuminating the arena and much of the plaza that surrounded the building. A half dozen fliers with searchlights descended on the city. A howling horde of red men swarmed down ropes dangling from the hovering airships which were armed with cannon. Riflemen lined the rails of the airships. The warriors on the ground charged through the stands and the clang of blade weapons and the sound of firearms echoed in the arena.
Thasa Ras noted the action but did not dare ignore the blood-crazed predators approaching. Hissing, arching her back and displaying her massive jaws to warn away the attacks, Thasa Ras was determined that life at all costs was her only concern.
The calot's display and warnings, the glistening triple rows of teeth, had little effect on the blood-crazed creatures. Tensing every muscle and joint, Thasa Ras faced the largest banth as it leapt toward her.
Before a jaw could snap, before she could react, before Thasa Ras could whisper an ancestor's goodbye, a tall, well-muscled red man dropped to the arena sands from the sky. The radium pistol in his left hand turned the lead banth's head to red ruin and the long sword in his right pierced the heart of a wild calot in mid-leap. Whirling to face the next creature he said: "Are you going to do nothing, my love?"
That voice! Despair became joy--resentment and shame must need wait until later. Thasa Ras immediately savaged the nearest calot, breaking its neck. Ras Thavas dispatched the other banths. The remaining calot wisely withdrew to watch the stands under the control of the Thavas Navy, and the red man standing next to the strange calot in the arena.
The figure of Ras Thavas with sword and pistol in hand thrilled Thasa Ras! If only she were not so weak. She wanted to lick him, romp with him, kill him--all odd thoughts only one of which she might do. Her husband looked to the arena wall when a padwar called "All secure!"
The master mind saluted with his sword then sheathed it. Kneeling, Ras Thavas examined Thasa Ras for injuries. He noted scars from previous battles, the broken leg, the infected wounds. "What possessed you to leave like that? I have been worried beyond words!"
"You came looking for me?" Thasa Ras asked. The wife of Ras Thavas was embarrassed to feel joy to see him and that she also owed her life to him. What either of those sensations meant was for future consideration.
"Yes--and no," the master mind truthfully replied. "The first month you were gone we searched every nearby island, then the southern shore. I thought you lost forever when one of the patrols came across the bones of a large calot, but when I examined the remains it was a male, so I continued to hope.
"Our patrols encountered new tribes of green men on the southern shore and learned of their recent movement into the area--as well as their trapping and fighting of local predators. We need the predators to keep the silians and other more prolific creatures in check. Some of the nomads we convinced to change their ways but this group defied the proclamation of the New City of Thavas. So we returned in strength--and I came with the force because it had been rumored a wonder calot had survived a hundred battles. I hoped it would be you!"
Thasa Ras listened to his words, but more than that, she listened to his heart. "You risked your life to save me."
Ras Thavas curbed his indignation, caressing his wife's bloody snout. "Why should that surprise you, Thasa Ras? I love you!"
The calot looked into the master mind's eyes. There was no harm in asking: "May I have my body back?"Ras Thavas paused, then began to laugh. "No."
The master mind waved to a hovering airship. "A litter!" Before he turned away to deal with the final stages of the Qathor raid, Thasa Ras' husband kissed her between the eyes. "Fight me, Thasa Ras. Convince me if you can but," he added with soft voice and arms about the calot's neck, "do not ever leave me!"
Thasa Ras welcomed the hug. The embrace reminded her of more amorous embraces which she had welcomed on the balcony of their apartment under the twin moons of Barsoom--hot and impassioned embraces which memory startled her with sudden warmth and desire.
"Why should I stay, my chieftain?" The question had two purposes: to obtain an answer to the question and to give time to conceal her unexpected response.
"Stay if you love me," Ras Thavas replied. He rose to direct the four warriors from the airship who lifted Thasa Ras' battered body from the arena sands to a litter. He walked at her head, a tender hand caressing the calot's bedraggled mane.
"Stay because I love you," Ras Thavas said through the mind link that only they shared. A few steps later, as the litter was lifted to the gunwale, the master mind kissed the calot. The warriors paid no attention because it was well known that the most brilliant man on the planet was completely unhinged as regards his pet calot.
"Stay with me, my princess!" Ras Thavas pleaded as the warriors raised the litter to the gunwale. A half dozen thans on deck took the litter and placed it aboard. Ras Thavas climbed up the rope ladder, still speaking to his wife. "I might go insane one day and grant all your wishes, even if you have not yet learned the errors of your ways."
Ras Thavas then said something that did not embrace any of their old arguments, differences of opinion, or even world-shattering possibilities. "Stay, Thasa Ras. You are pregnant."
The weary calot endowed with a human brain sighed and emotionally died. She had much to think about on the way back to the New City of Thavas.
Thasa Ras gently nudged her eight infants back to her teats. "They are cute, aren't they?"
Ras Thavas avoided one of the hand-length infants by lifting his foot. He had been bitten too many times already. "Nurture from mother, but offspring also ready to eat the real world. Amazing, Thasa Ras! You do realize this is the first time the hidden life-cycle of the calot has been chronicled? The majority of scientists suggest that all vertebrate life on Barsoom is oviporous. Calots in the wild lay eggs, yet your pregnancy shows that if the calot has sufficient food and is allowed to grow to full maturity the eggs are retained in the womb then hatch internally, producing a live birth! The well-fed mature calot female then provides early nurture by developing mammary glands, and protects the offspring, though the offspring are hatched with the ability to hunt and survive from the shell or live birth. Calot clutches in the wild tend toward cannibalistic behavior among the young and, because the parent has long since departed, the infants are subject to predators in the wild, which is the only reason that the eight to ten eggs produced with each lay has not resulted in over-population of the species. This duality of birth perhaps explains why the calot continues to be the most successful predator!"
Thasa Ras reclined at the foot of her husband's bed, enjoying the warmth of the sun through the double-wide access to the balcony beyond. Her get from the wild calot savagely attacked her newly developed glands, occassionally drawing blood.
The master mind's wife, in the calot's body, raised her head to fix her gaze on her husband's eyes directly: "I always believed we could rule the world, but before that I had always expected I would have your children first."
Ras Thavas looked at the eight tiny calots fighting for access to his wife's...the calot's...four teats.
Ras Thavas swallowed all the things he had wanted to say regarding life and marriage and science and his wife's wilderness pregnancy. Clenching his fists the master mind rose and uttered one angry word before he left the bedroom:
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