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Tangor 2003

Ras Thavas:
The Desert

David Bruce Bozarth

Cover Illustration: Tangor

There were two choices. They could remain in Faz isolated from the world or leave that place. Both the master mind of Barsoom and his wife, whose brain resided in the body of a calot--the most fearsome of Barsoom's successful predators--reached agreement that after three months beyond the retrieval date had passed it was apparent a flier from Helium would not appear.

"Another war for Helium, perhaps," Ras Thavas speculated to his wife.

"Or," she replied through the voice that only they shared, "John Carter has abandoned you."

The master mind smiled. "Believe what you will. Carter would not do such a thing, his word is his bond, but it is possible that Helium has troubles so great that a promise might be a low priority." Ras Thavas knelt and scratched the skin above his wife's eyes, gazing at the hideous snout with affection. "Bantoom is the nearest destination. We will not likely find friends there. Or we can can try for Manator where we might find a better reception."

The calot closed her eyes, enjoying the scratch, but her silent voice was pessimistic. "Where you lead I will follow."

They hunted and collected all they could find in the tiny scrap of landscape the geo-thermal waters of the ancient city of Faz maintained. Food was cured and secured. Ras Thavas, in the youthful body that Vad Varo had provided under protest via brain transplant, looked at his wife in the beast's body, whose brain was also transplanted under protest.

Ras Thavas had not protested his brain transfer into the body of a youthful redman. He had insisted on that transfer and had trained Ulysses Paxton of Jasoom in the techniques required because Ras Thavas, in his 1100th year of life, had located the prime specimen, removed the man's brain, then destroyed it. Paxton, known as Vad Varo, performed the surgery because that worthy had an agenda greater, a hope to restore a Martian maid named Valla Dia to her own body. Ras Thavas woke after the surgery in a fine and healthy body--and now lived to regret the operation.

Thasa Ras' brain occupied the body of a calot because she, the wife of Ras Thavas, who had been a student of the master mind's science and knowledge, had perverted that learning to create artificial life--a lover. Her husband had spared her life, but he had also exacted an extreme revenge. Her brain resided in the body of a calot, and she had no choice but to remain not only loyal, but his bodyguard--for if Ras Thavas perished she could never be returned to her human form. She bided her time, but she was also glad that if she had suffered his anger that she was in the one body that could keep Ras Thavas alive. Ten legs, a short, powerful body, a gaping jaw with triple rows of teeth and a natural strength that was the match of any of the predators of Barsoom. Ras Thavas must live. He had to live until she found a way to convince him to restore her brain into her human form which was in a sealed cell somewhere in Thavas, the city her husband had rebuilt from the ruins of Thavas.

Forty-two days into the desert northwest of the ancient city Ras Thavas painfully leaned on a rock, using every ounce of his intellect to ignore the pain. There were many rocks. There was desert as far as the eye could see. There was no vegetation. No water. No life. The water they carried from Faz had run out. All the food had been consumed days earlier.

A day before two banths had attacked. Ras Thavas had killed the one that attacked Thasa Ras with his radium pistol. Thasa Ras killed the second, but not before the banth's attack broke both of her husband's legs. They drank blood, ate flesh from the creatures that were nearly as starved as they, the left that area before the scavengers arrived.

Thasa Ras spoke to her husband, making every effort to refrain from desperation and concern. "Up you go. Climb on my back. Arms about my neck. Did I say thank you? I will carry you out of here."

Ras Thavas ached in every joint. He attempted to ignore the broken bones which were not set but were immobilized by his long sword on one leg and short sword on the other, bound with straps from his harness and hide cut from one of the banths. He had lost the radium pistol and did not remember when that occurred.

"Leave me, Thasa Ras. Tell Vad Varo this..."

Thasa Ras interrupted with a fury of emotion. "Do not dare tell me where the Jasoomian might find my body and restore my brain! Arms. My neck. Help me!"

Ras Thavas, frowned, suffering from water loss, weakness of limbs, and hallucinations. "Let me tell you, dear wife! I--"

"Arms!" Thasas Ras directed again. "My neck!"

The master mind managed to secure himself at his wife's direction. He fought the pain as the calot crossed dozens of haads, but his strength was failing and each time he lost his grip the resulting fall to the ground caused such pain that he passed out. Each time the calot nudged him, shouted at him, revived him with licks on his face and arms. Ras Thavas would again painfully mount his wife's sturdy back, but there came a time Ras Thavas' strength was gone and the calot could not revive him.

Thasa Ras opened her mouth and lifted Ras Thavas from the sand as gently as possible. Her three rows of teeth did not enter too deeply into her husband's skin, but she tasted his blood. The first twenty haads was not a hardship. The next twenty haads was more difficult. Her husband's dead weight was nearly as great as her body mass. Her short neck ached as she tried to keep from dragging his broken legs through the sand. The calot's powerful hearts thundered with the effort and the pain in her jaw and over-taxed forequarters became agony. Every long up slope was torture, every down slope was relief.

But the physical reserves of the calot were not without limits. Thasa Ras, near midnight, Ras Thavas was placed within a clump of boulders. Thasa Ras rested for a zode, then heard movement in the sand. Instantly alert, she investigated. She saw a small creature she did not recognize. She pounced, killed it, and carried the carcass back to her husband. She could not wake him, so she ate the creature and rested a while longer.

"Thasa Ras? Thasa Ras, are you here?"

"I am here!" Thasa Ras replied. "How are you?"

"Dying. So let me tell you..."

"Shut up! Do you not understand that no matter what you tell me regarding the location of my human body there is no way I can communicate the same to Vad Varo? It is your intent to torture me more by knowing where my body is and knowing it will never be restored to me?"

Ras Thavas wept. "That was not my intent!"

Thasa Ras' calot body could not express the emotion that filled her brain. "I know. This will hurt."

Lifting the dying mastermind's body in her jaws, Thasa Ras continued her thought. "You put my brain in the body of a calot--and, damn you, I deserved it for abusing your knowledge and," she sobbed, "for forgetting that I loved you."

Ras Thavas, drifting between reality and consciousness, ignored the pain of the gently applied jaws of the calot. "It was my fault," Ras Thavas replied. "You became my life. All I wished was to share my life with you--and I was wrong in doing so because you deserved so much more than I could give. I am a thousand years older, Thasa Ras. My pursuit of science and arrogance nearly ended Barsoom. It is all my fault!"

Twenty haads passed before Thasa Ras replied. She continually adjusted her bite on the red man's body.

"You cannot take all the blame, husband. I have my own mind. I knew the thrill of knowledge provided."

"And?" Ras Thavas struggled to stay alert.

"And," the calot replied, "I abused that knowledge! Even now you continue to teach me and I am not sure that I should hate you or love you for that effort. But I must admit that I admire you."

Ras Thavas said a very un-master mind thing. "Even in the sleeping silks and furs?"

The hummock clad in scarlet moss under the twin moons of Barsoom seemed yet another objective and that they were near the edge of the desert, though Thasas Ras did not know how many objectives might be necessary. Thasa Ras momentarily tightened her bite on her husband's body.

"Bastard! I've only known two men and one was stupid! How far?"

Ras Thavas passed out before he could ask which of the two had been stupid. He did not awaken again as the calot trudged through the night and long after the dawn.

"Sir? Wake up."

Ras Thavas woke at the gentle slap on his hand. "What?"

He was in a hospital bed on board a naval airship. The pain in his limbs was greatly diminished. His mind was instantly aware. "Doctor?"

The practitioner grinned. "Awake? Good! Dansay, inform the padwar the patient is alert," the red man said to another nearby.

Ras Thavas summoned all his strength. "My calot?"

The man lifted Ras Thavas' head and gestured to the foot of the bed. "There, and we had a devil of a time with her. I have calots of my own but none so devoted."

Ras Thavas glanced to the compact and retired calot which lay in a corner of the cabin, her snout resting on the floor, though her eyes were alert. In their private speak he asked: "What happened?"

The calot remained motionless and replied: "Near two hundred haads I carried you. Worried. Then a day later near midday there was a ship in the sky. I sported and made such a fool of myself that they landed. Thank all that we know is not holy that they did land and that I could lead them to you. And from that moment on I made sure that we remained together."

The ship's doctor continued his work, unaware of the conversation between Ras Thavas and the calot.

Ras Thavas spoke to his wife. "You saved me."

Thasa Ras replied. "I saved you, but I did not save you for the obvious resson. I do love you, Ras Thavas!"

Ras Thavas closed his eyes as the physician worked on his injuries. "I know that. But I also know you want me to live, to ultimately restore you to your body."

Thasa Ras, the calot continued to lie low in the medical officer's room. She was instantly angry, "There is more to why than the obvious!"

Ras Thavas lost consciousness during the treatment. When he awoke the shadows created by the port hole were in different positions. He continued his conversation with his wife. "Where are we?" he asked.

The calot crouched next to his bed was dangerous only to anyone who attempted to lure the creature away. "Rest. They are friends."

The next day Ras Thavas learned that those who rescued him were from Duhor on a mission to Manator, where it was hoped that the master taxidermists of that nation could permanently mount the body of the Jeddara of Duhor's beloved pet sorak, now deceased.

"You look very familiar, sir," the doctor said during his morning examination. "Have you ever been a teacher at Thavas? I took my final medical instruction at the Second Tower."

Ras Thavas suddenly laughed. "Perhaps you were in one of my advanced anatomy classes. I am Ras Thavas."

The young man seemed totally dismayed at his failure to recognize the master mind. Looking at the calot he said, "That must be Thasa Ras, the wonder calot!"

"I did not know my calot had achieved such fame, but yes, that is Thasa Ras."

"Dansay!" the doctor turned to the doorway. "Get the padwar! Sir, is there anything I can do for you? Is there..."

"Just continue to practice your trade with the same skill you have shown. And make sure my calot is left alone unless she initiates a contact."

"You will fully recover, sir," the young physician said. "You should be up and about in two days." Glancing toward Thasa Ras, who had padded close to the bed to rub her shoulder against the doctor's legs, the young man observed: "Your calot must love you very much to have carried you the way it did."

"Yes," the master mind softly replied. "Only my wife could love me more."

* * * * *

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