David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2005
Cover Illustration: Tangor
Copyright © 2005
The city of Faz stood on what had once been a wide pennisula reaching fifty haads into the shallow waters of the western Throxus Ocean. For thousands of years the Orovars of Faz had harvested the bounty of the warm waters and shipped fresh and preserved sea food around the world. When the waters receded Faz became a center for thoat ranching and the shallow basins became fertile plains filled with grasses, moss, and farm land. After one hundred thousand years of prosperity the half-million inhabitants of Faz disappeared in one night, or so the old legends told.
Faz remained famous in present day Barsoom as the site of a dozen geo-thermal vents from which steam and hot water nourished a dozen square haads of lush vegetation.
The master mind of Mars and his faithful calot--a fearsome ten-legged predator that actually had the brain of his wife inside the skull that topped massive jaws with three rows of teeth--arrived at Faz with the intention of discovering whether there was any truth to the legend of the ancient city. A mass exodus, or mass extinction was an extraordinary event even on a planet where the extraordinary was generally considered mundane. The geo-thermal vents were also of interest and Ras Thavas looked forward to his exploration of Faz.
Faz, unlike most of the ancient cities of Barsoom, had few towers, but there where huge warehouses in all quarters of Faz. These gargantuan warehouses were large enough to hold the vast Temple of Knowledge in Helium. From these great buildings the products of Faz were shipped to the waiting fleets.
Ras Thavas and Thasa Ras prowled through these magnificent structures, many still intact, but rarely found anything of importance. In some buildings hundreds of stone tables covered with dust indicated the immensity of activity, in others the floors were bare. Faz was located high enough above the shallow basins that the silicates of the desert which had replaced the once fertile lands when the oceans finally disappeared did not litter the floors or doorways.
Thasa Ras explosively sneezed, clearing dust from her nostrils. "There is nothing here, husband."
"You are correct, my dear, but there should more than what we have found. Even in the most ancient cities there are remnants of the original inhabitants--or their garbage and cast-offs. We have found neither. Let us search the inner part of Faz."
Thasa Ras sensed the human first. "There is a man up wind of us."
The master mind arched a brow. "Interesting. Take me to him. And how do you know it is a man?"
"I may not like the body you have put me in, but it does have advantages over the one you once kissed and caressed. Men smell different than women."
"I would not have put your brain in that body if you had not betrayed me or the promise I made to John Carter and the other Jeddaks of Barsoom."
The calot ignored the old argument while recognizing that her husband had at least refrained from killing her for the indiscretion. "See the third building ahead? When you reach that point call out to the man. I will be nearby and if he appears hostile, I will intervene."
"Of course, Thasa Ras. We both know why you value my safety above all other things, but please, if possible, do not kill this person out of hand. On Barsoom all too often we kill strangers first then never have the opportunity to ask questions. I want to know why there is a man in Faz."
When Ras Thavas reached the corner of the building, he raised his voice. "Stranger! I am Ras Thavas. I would like to meet with you!"
The voice that replied was strong, commanding. "I will meet with you and you may hold a weapon, but let us see each other before we do anything else!"
Ras Thavas placed his right hand on the butt of his radium pistol but did not draw it. He stepped into the street. Facing him, near a small fountain from which water flowed into a small basin, then into an overflow channel that ran down the center of the street, was a tall white man with auburn hair. In one hand, with an arrow placed on the string, he held a bow, with the projectile pointed to the ground.
"You do not look like the Ras Thavas I have seen in portrait," the bowman said. His tone was not threatening, though he remained cautious.
"My appearance has changed, but I am Ras Thavas. How do you know my portraits of old?"
"I knew Carthoris a few hundred years ago. I was in Helium. So, if you are Ras Thavas, why are you in Faz?"
"I could ask you the same, Kar Komak."
The man laughed. "I see my fame has preceded me the same as yours has for you. Come, Ras Thavas. Have water." The bowman of Lothar returned the arrow to his quivver and slung the bow over his shoulder.
Ras Thavas took his hand away from the pistol and walked to the fountain. He offered his hand in greeting and was pleased when Kar Komak accepted. "I have a calot with me," Ras Thavas said. "I would like to call it in, if you have no objection."
"None." Kar Komak continued to fill buckets with the clear water coming from the fountain.
A moment later the bowman grinned. "That is the largest calot I have ever seen!"
"She is Thasa Ras, a mutant among calots. She understands voice and hand commands, but cannot be controlled telephatically. She is my devoted companion and is gentle unless I am threatened."
"I assure you, Ras Thavas, I am no one's threat. I live in Faz for the solitude. I once made war my occupation, but I have grown so weary of that enterprise that all I wish now is peace. One cannot find peace in the cities. Only here in the desert where not even the white apes or the green men range have I found happiness; yet, I must confess that I have missed the conversation of men and you are most welcome to my home. Please, come meet my wife."
"I'll carry that," Ras Thavas said, picking up one of the filled buckets. As they walked through the deserted street the master mind continued his conversation. "I had wondered what happened to you, Kar Komak. All know the story of how you came into being as a favored materialization by Tario of Lothar, that place of mentalists with enormous hypnotic powers. You led one of the legions that kept Lothar free of the green hordes, then after you achieved substance you gave aid to Carthoris and Thuvia."
"Some years after that I went to Helium to see Carthoris, but he had moved to Ptarth. His father and mother were kind to me, and for a time I served in the ranks of the Heliumetic navy as a panthan. Yet I was never comfortable among the millions of Helium. The red man, except for you it seems, cannot control all their telephatic speech. There was always too much noise, even when I tried to sleep. In battle the din became even more disconcerting and I finally sought the solitude of the lonesome places. In time I found a wife and then found Faz, one of the places the Orovars were most successful. This is a good place, Ras Thavas."
Kar Komak led Ras Thavas and the calot toward the center of Faz. The buildings were smaller, none over two stories in height. Where the Orovarian lived was easy to determine, a cloth awning covered the front of the eight room house to produce comforting shade from the sun. A young woman with blonde hair sat on a bench, a bowl in her lap as she peeled fruits. She put the bowl aside and rose, lifting a bow and nocking an arrow with a worried expression as the trio approached.
"We have a guest, Rena!" Kar Komak cried. "Ras Thavas, my wife, Rena."
The master mind placed the bucket of water next to the one Kar Komak put down then bowed to the tiny woman. "It is my great pleasure to meet you."
Kar Komak put his arm around the woman, smiling to ease her worry. "He is a very famous scientist, Rena. This is his calot, Thasa Ras. May I?" Kar Komak asked as he knelt beside the hunting calot.
"Of course," Ras Thavas replied.
Through their private telepathic link Ras Thavas admonished, "Be at your best, wife. Kar Komak is no enemy."
Thasa Ras replied, "I will be sweet, husband. I like him." And as proof of her statement, the calot's rough tongue caressed the bowman's cheek. A moment later she accepted the touch of Rena and, though she did not lick the woman, Thasa Ras appeared pleased to have the caress.
Thasa Ras, however, sent an immediate and worried comment. "I can feel her, but I cannot smell her!"
"Do not worry," Ras Thavas replied privately. "There is no danger here."
The calot seemed unconvinced. "Women have a smell, just like men do. But I will wait and see."
Kar Komak was the perfect host. He shared all that his small estate could offer: water, rough food, a light as the evening drew on and, later, conversation. Rena proved to be an excellent cook and was very interested in what the men said.
"I have never been to a city," she remarked. "In fact, I have never seen a red man before."
Kar Komak chuckled. "Rena has led a very sheltered life. Now, Ras Thavas, what brings you to Faz?"
The master mind explained his interests in the legend and the geo-thermal activity. "Our legends indicate that Faz was once one of the most populous and properous Orovar cities--and vanished in one night. A mystery."
Kar Komak shook his head. "I was not aware of this mystery. It appears that my time among the red men never touched on this legend. I can tell you what happened to Faz. I was here at the time, but I was only a city away."
"My! That event was at least a million years ago!" the master mind exclaimed.
The bowman smiled. "The Orovars have long memories, though if truth be told the Orovars of Lothar have become so degenerate that perhaps what I am about to tell you may not be as true as I believe it to be.
"Faz was never a half-million people. In fact, the Orovars were never a populous people. We had powers of the mind that set us apart. Some of us were more adept at using those powers. At no time were there more than three hundred Orovars in Faz, but all of them were mentalists of great skill.
"The vast throngs of workers, sailors, and ranchers were materializations from their brains. Each materialization was perfect to the extent that the simulacra had physical form and could build structures, roads, farms... Then in one night it all ended when the central thermal vent sent poisonous gases rather than steam. The entire population, the real population of Faz, died. I believe I can show you the place where it occurred. Come, Ras Thavas, let us see if my memories are correct."
Kar Komak picked up a hand-held radium bulb and led the way outside the house. The master mind, the calot, and Kar Komak's wife followed the bowman of Lothar.
The wind whispered through vacant windows and doors in the buildings along the street. Ever deeper into the center of Faz Kar Komak led the master mind, the calot, and Rena. The group approached a walled compound and entered through an opening where gates, now gone, once sealed the area. The light of Thuria and Cluros assisted the radium bulb Kar Komak held high. Ras Thavas observed perhaps one hundred single story houses protected by the wall.
The bowman led the master mind to the nearest structure.
Inside the house where the objects the scientist had expected to see: dishes, mounds of disentigrated furnishings, mounds of dust which the winds had not stirred that might be the bones of inhabitants. The next building had skeletons which had been fossilized because the in-house fountain had continued to run and when the basin failed the overflow had provided the minerals necessary to complete the process of turning bones to stone.
Kar Komak sighed. "I knew this, but never had the desire to know this." The bowman directed his light as necessary for Ras Thavas' interest. "These are the reamins of the people of Faz. The Orovars once ruled the world, but we were never many. All of our thriving, energetic throngs were the product which produced the legends, but we were always only a few."
Kar Komak placed the lamp on a shelf and knelt over an ancestor's remains. "I once commanded a merchant ship, a fine ship of two-hundred and sixty sofads. I had a complement of fifty on the vessel and there was nothing we could not face on any shore, but forty-nine of those sailors were materializations from my mind."
Ras Thavas honored the silence that came over Kar Komak. He had learned much regarding the Orovars because of Kar Komak's freely provided information; yet, also had a new respect for the mental capabilities of the elder race and the loss that Kar Komak felt.
The master mind pondered the fact that perhaps a handful of thousands Orovarians had created a civilization which appeared to be millions in strength and that their mark had been so strongly left in the history of Barsoom. The Orovars were apparently not only mentalists they also had a science of their own which produced the ancient atmosphere plants that, to this day, maintained the life of dying Barsoom. He had much to think about.
Thasa Ras chose to sleep outside the building when the party returned to the house. Ras Thavas settled into sleeping furs and silks provided by his hosts. He did not know how long he had been asleep when a timid hand touched his shoulder.
Rena whispered. "Take me with you. I want to see the cities."
"I cannot, Rena. You have your life here with your husband. Good night."
The next morning Ras Thavas begged his host to allow him and the calot to hunt and gather. "You have shown kindness. I am compelled to repay that generosity."
Returning from the hunt with a brace of darseen lizards, a dozen sompus fruits, and a bag of nuts, Thasa Ras placed her massive body between the master mind and the house of Kar Komak before they came to the house. "There is an argument," she said.
"I continue to be amazed at how keen are your senses. Should we wait until they are finished?"
"It is about you, husband. Approach until you can overhear."
Frowning, Ras Thavas kept to the morning shadows from the nearby buildings until he could hear Rena's plaint: "...with him. Why not, Kar Komak? Why did you never tell me about the greater world? I want to see it!"
Kar Komak refused. "Our life has been good here. It will not be good in the cities."
"You are a bully! And you have been a liar! I hate you!"
A door slammed. Thasa Ras bumped the master mind's knee with her shoulder. "We should enter now."
Kar Komak sat at the table, his head in his hands. Ras Thavas cleared his throat. The bowman rubbed his face then rose. "I see you had a good hunt. Thank you."
Ras Thavas placed the game, fruits, and nuts on the table. "Is everything all right?"
"Of course!" Kar Komak picked up the darseen and expertly gutted the lizards. "I haven't seen darseen in a few months. We will eat well tonight!"
Ras Thavas followed the man's obvious direction and did not mention what he had overheard. "I have the benefit of an excellent hunting calot. Do you grill or boil darseen?"
"We have two darseen, my friend. Why not both?"
Ras Thavas spent the rest of the day at the inner compound, observing and taking notes. In the few buildings where human remains were found he was perplexed that most of the remains appeared to be male. Thasa Ras had no interest in these old bones, debris, or refuse ancient. Though her brain was human her body was calot. She found a spot where she could wallow in the sand and sun herself.
That evening darseen was served in two dishes, boiled and broiled, and both were excellent. Rena, though occasionally petulant in asides with her husband, was a pleasant dinner companion.
After dinner the master mind and Kar Komak sat under the awning, observing the passage of the moons of Barsoom. Rena was in the house. The calot was most likely hunting.
Kar Komak put aside the small talk and spoke his mind:
"I do not know whether I should thank Tario for my physicality or damn him. This age of Barsoom is not mine, Ras Thavas. The races have becomes so diffused that I cannot concentrate in the outer world. Only with you do I have peace. Does that make sense?"
The master mind paused to break open a nut that he really did not wish to consume, yet gave him the moment required to frame his reply. "My observations of the compound and this city suggest many things, Kar Komak. The Orovars appear to be the most accomplished telepaths that Barsoom has ever seen. Perhaps the Orovars are responsible for the telepathy that all the races of Barsoom now use as a universal language--after intermixing with the black, red, yellow, and white races."
Kar Komak smiled. "That is an interesting thought, Ras Thavas, but I remind you that the green man is also telepathic."
"This is true, Kar Komak. I have considered that as well. Tell me, sir, when did the Orovars first encounter the green men?"
Kar Komak instantly replied, saying, "They were the workers in Faz in the warehouses, of course. Their great height and multiple hands made the packing of..." Kar Komak abruptly turned his face to the master mind. "I spoke as a child repeating history!" His face paled, even under the light of moons, "We created the creatures that killed us!"
Ras Thavas placed a sympathetic hand on the bowman's knee. "Perhaps, Kar Komak. Yet we must thank the Orovars who created the hexapod green men to have a fully realized a method of limiting their reality with a brutal culture and natural desire for zero population growth, as well as alack of family custom. If the latter had not been applied there would be no humans left on Barsoom."
Kar Komak nodded. After a long silence he said, "Let us speak of other things."
The two men talked into the night, but when the hour grew late, they retired.
Again, from sleep, a hand woke Ras Thavas. "Take me with you," Rena begged."
"I cannot. He is your husband," the master mind repeated.
"And if he were not, would you take me?"
Ras Thavas woke with a start. There was a cry of pain that echoed through the house. Thasa Ras was at her husband's side before he could reach for his sword and put his feet on the floor.
Thasa Ras' mane bristled. "No one entered the house!
What is happening?"
"Let us find out!"
In the room where Kar Komak and Rena slept, the pre-dawn star light revealed Rena, with knife in hand, standing over the disembowled body of her husband.
"Die!" Rena shrieked. "You lied to me! You do not love me! Die!"
Kar Komak, fatally wounded, gasped. "You do not understand, wife," the dying man said with sorrow and regret. "I never told you what you are--who you are. Without me you will cease to exist."
"I do not believe you," Rena screamed. "I will go with Ras Thavas and see the cities of Barsoom and...what is happening?" she cried with horror.
The bloody knife fell to the ground with a clang of metal on stone. The hand which had held the weapon had turned invisible. Even as the master mind watched, the woman's shape and form began to dematerialize.
Kar Komak sobbed his unhappiness. "Rena, I could not make you real the way Tario of Lothar made me real. I tried! I had to leave the cities to find a place far away from telepathic communications and then I created you, loved you. And I gave you your own mind so that you could surprise me each day with new thoughts. I suppose," he painfully sighed, clutching his midsection, "I wrought too well in that regard."
"Ras Thavas!" the woman pleaded, "Save me!"
"I cannot. My skills and science only work on physical forms. You are a materialization from Kar Komak's mind. You exist only as long as he does."
"Then save my husband!"
Ras Thavas lowered his gaze, speaking the truth. "I fear that you have wrought too well. There is nothing I can do for Kar Komak."
The bowman of Lothar struggled to stay alive. His will strengthened his hypnotic powers to restore some of his wife's beauty and substance. She knelt beside the Orovarian and wept. Taking his hand in hers she cried,
"What have I done?"
Kar Komak opened his eyes. His lips shaped three words, though no sound could be heard. "I forgive you."
A moment later the bowman died and, like the hooding of a radium bulb, the woman instantly vanished.
Thasa Ras helped seal the entrance to the tiny chamber where Ras Thavas placed the bowman's body. The calot nudged large fragments of tumbled masonary into place.
"That should keep the scavengers out," Thasa Ras said through the telephatic link that was exclusive to her and Ras Thavas. "The Orovars appear to have been dysfunctional," she observed. "Creating wives rather than taking wives. That's why I could not smell Rena, she was physical, but she was not real. The small population...it all makes sense. But", she added, "He loved her very much."
Ras Thavas placed a few more stones to seal the room then sat down. The master mind leaned against the wall and covered his eyes with a hand. "He did what he thought was right. He loved her enough to give her free will. That was his undoing."
The calot's demeanor changed in an instant. The creature crouched low to the ground and slowly approached the master mind of Barsoom. Her massive head tenderly covered the red man's extended leg.Calots cannot weep.
"Do not lecture me, Ras Thavas," Thasa Ras begged through their private voice.
Ras Thavas instantly leaned forward and embraced the calot. "I would not dare! Thasa Ras, I love you!"
The calot rolled her eyes up to the man. "At this moment, I love you, too!"
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