Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBLIST FEATURES FAQs, Articles, Reviews, Persona Directory, Hall of Memory SUMMARY PROJECT Summarizing ERB's works one chapter at a time FAN FICTION Shorts, Novels, Poetry, Plays, Pulps ERBmania! Articles, Contributors: Tangor Responds, Edgardemain, ERB: In Focus, Nkima Speaks, Beyond 30W, Tantor Trumpets, Dime Lectures, Korak in Pal-ul-don, Public Domain novels of ERB GLOSSARIES Worlds of: Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon, Amtor, Caspak, Pal-u-don
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2006
Copyright © 2006
Ras Thavas leaned back in his chair under the portico awning of Gastan's Inn with a satisfied smile. Before him lay an empty plate and a nearly empty glass of wine. His sandaled foot lay across the back of a large calot contentedly gnawing a tray of thoat bones. Across the skeel wood table sat Tan Hadron, Odwar of the navy of New City of Thavas, at his side was the Odwar's wife, the beautiful Tavia. Gastan approached with a second decanter of Dusarian honey wine. He filled glasses.
"I trust all was acceptable, First Citizen."
Ras Thavas scowled with a wink. "You know all my favorites. I have consumed too much. You are a rascal villain, Gastan. Remind me to tax you for your excellence and good service—one day."
"Please!" Gastan chuckled as he filled Tavia's glass. "Taxes! Why, that would make me the first in all New City to be taxed! Please!"
Tan Hadron laughed, covering his cup as the inn-keeper tipped the decanter above his glass. "You are too eager, my friend, to introduce that ill of government that plagues the nations of Barsoom for the sake of yet another advertisement of the quality of your food and service!"
Gastan made a heroic sigh, rolling a huge shrug through his shoulders, laughing, "That is true, Odwar. I remember all those taxes I paid in Amhor before I reloca...."
A shadow fell across the table. The young man was tall, as tall as Ras Thavas, were he erect. His harness was unfamiliar, though upon which was depended the traditional weapons of the Barsoomian warrior: long sword, short sword, dagger and radium pistol. His hair was black, wild and tightly curled; barely contained by headband and a leather binding at the neck. Most unusual was his skin color, infinitely darker than a red man though not quite as black as the occasional First Born who walked the streets of New City of Thavas' market section.
"You are Ras Thavas?" the stranger asked, looking directly at the curious master mind of Barsoom.
Tan Hadron tensed. As the officer began to rise Ras Thavas made a small gesture. "I am. Will you join us—?" The invitation was also a demand for an identification.
"I would speak with you alone, sir," came the reply.
"Tan Hadron is my most trusted associate. His wife Tavia is my dearest friend. You may speak in their presence."
When the young man glanced toward Gastan with an arched brow, the innkeeper quickly bowed and backed away. "I will return later, First Citizen!" the innkeeper exclaimed.
Ras Thavas exchanged stares with the stranger for a long moment. The calot at his feet had moved away from the thoat bones and sat alert at his side.
"Sit." Ras Thavas indicated a chair to the dark-skinned man.
The young warrior did so, arranging his weapons with a cautious hand as to give no concern to Ras Thavas or Tan Hadron—who were both similarly armed. "First Citizen?" he asked. "What title is that? Are you not Jeddak of this city?"
Ras Thavas frowned as he leaned forward slightly, alternately stroking and gripping the mane of the massive calot at his feet. "A title of respect I cannot avoid—I was, and am, the first person to inhabit the city you see about you. After five hundred years a tradition was established, even though we have a Council to deal with the day to day necessities of management, I am the First Citizen. We do not have a Jeddak. You are—? And from Where?"
The young man lowered his eyes momentarily. "I really should speak to you alone," he said.
Before Tan Hadron could take a breath Ras Thavas replied, "That is impossible. My Odwar's interest is so keen at this point that nothing short of the destruction of Barsoom could remove him from this conversation—nor would I wish him to be other than where he sits. Hush, Thasa Ras!"
A growl had been building in the throat of the tensed calot. The tone of her master's voice, and his hand tangled in her mane, quieted the beast. Ras Thavas narrowed his eyes. His voice took on a touch of steel. "Who are you?"
The stranger compressed his lips, holding back an angry retort. Then, after glancing around to determine their privacy, he quietly said: "I am your son."
Tavia gasped. "Junie Watts!" and was silenced from further outburst by her husband's hand on her shoulder. Tan Hadron's eyes met those of Ras Thavas, concerned, understanding, and suggesting this was not the place to continue the conversation.
Meanwhile, the young man nodded. "Junie Watts is my mother." He paused, then said, "Now, may I speak you to alone?"
Ras Thavas rose. As he reached for his belt pouch to pay for the luncheon he was startled by the clatter of Tan Hadron's tampi hitting the gorgeously figured skeel wood table top. At his side the calot swayed eagerly, poised on ten short legs ending in padded feet. The master mind placed his hand on the young man's elbow. "Not alone," he said, "but I agree we might do this less publicly. Thasa Ras...home!"
The calot started at a quick trot. Tan Hadron nudged his wife, who immediately followed the calot while he and Ras Thavas escorted the dark-skinned man between them.
"Where are we going?" the son of the First Citizen asked.
"My quarters," Ras Thavas replied. "What is your name?"
The master mind had absorbed all with the precision and intensity of his vocation but that name caused him to misstep. To Tan Hadron he said: "Her father's name was Rastus. She once told me that my name gave her comfort, being a part of her father's name—and if we had a child she would name him Rastus in honor of us both. He is my son. We will talk in the apartment."
* * * * * * * *
Jusaj sought out his master shortly after Tan Hadron, Tavia and the stranger entered the apartment. "Thasa Ras is agitated..."
Ras Thavas lowered his voice and drew his majordomo to the room's entrance. "Yes. She would be. That young man is my son, Jusaj."
"Oh," the majordomo replied, not with arched brow but with a soft breath of understanding. "She... Of course, sir. Shall I—"
"Keep her in the next room. I trust her...she says I can trust her, but perhaps it is best for the moment."
Ras Thavas thought of a beautiful girl he had raised from the egg and eventually married. A girl who had begged his knowledge of medicine and science. A woman who eventually betrayed his trust and their marriage vows and created an artificial lover and, by the laws of Barsoom could have been slain by her husband for all her betrayals. Ras Thavas had not, but he had transplanted her brain into that of his favorite hunting calot as a punishment and as a way of preventing his scientific wife from upsetting the delicate balance of power among the nations of Barsoom. When Ras Thavas thought his wife had perished during an outlaw attack, Junie Watts had been there to console him, and eventually shared his bed. Junie Watts: an American Negro who had once adventured with Dejah Thoris, the wife of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom; who was instrumental in saving the life of Dejah Thoris, and—it was now obvious—had given him a son!
Jusaj nodded, closing the door. Ras Thavas turned about, facing the trio in the center of the room. He depended upon Tan Hadron, not only for his strength of arm and dedication to the protection of New City of Thavas, but for his personal council and his friendship. His wife Tavia was equally sublime as a friend—and was a breath of feminine reason when the need arose.
The remaining figure matched him eye for eye, length for length. The master mind saw his features and those of Junie Watts on the face of Rastus Watts. Embarrassed—and elated!—the First Citizen of New City of Thavas approached his son.
"How is your mother?"
"Dead." The young man glared at his father. "Tell me why you killed her!"
The declaration caused Tavia to start, and Tan Hadron to grip his service sword, and Ras Thavas to laugh. It was the laugh that brought frowns upon their faces.
"I love your mother," Ras Thavas said. "Your mother left me a little more than twenty years ago—the reasons are complicated, but she understood and agreed. I do not know if she returned to Thaandor or Thilum, those were possible destinations. I have thought of Junie Watts frequently, but never with malice or any desire to terminate her life. Sit, Rastus Watts, you too, Tan Hadron and Tavia."
Ras Thavas lowered his voice and continued: "Since you did not attempt to exact a revenge immediately indicates you have a doubt—and I wish to hear that!"
Rastus Watts narrowed his eyes for a moment, then nodded. He took the indicated chair at the table, watching as the Odwar and his wife settled in adjacent seats. Ras Thavas walked to the sideboard and brought back a decanter of Dusarian honey wine and four goblets of burnished gold.
Ras Thavas stood at the skeel wood table edge and opened the decanter. He poured the wine and distributed the cups. He paused for a moment, then turned his head over his shoulder and called out: "Jusaj! Let in the calot."
The great beast squeezed through the door before it was fully opened and came to a quivering stop at her master's side. "Heel," Ras Thavas said with a strangely gentle voice. The calot instantly lay full-length beside the vacant chair. The first citizen of New City of Thavas sat down.
Two knew...or guessed...at the master mind's affectionate caress to the calot's stiff mane, the third puckered confused eyebrows that a human would show such to a hunting beast.
Ras Thavas extended a leg over the neck of the calot and reached down to grip the beast's lower jaw in a familiar way. He gently shook it as he nuzzled the short mane. "Good girl!" he said.
Tan Hadron cut his eyes toward Tavia, a silent communication that husbands might have with wives. His lips were set in a straight line. Tavia frowned, peeved at the look of warning from her husband, as if she was not only aware, but had information even he did not have. Meanwhile, Rastus Watts watched all three and was perplexed. He had come to New City of Thavas requiring the answer to a single question and now, in a very short period of time, many questions had surfaced! He said:
"Tell me why you killed my mother." The young man looked at the calot, which lay with gaping jaws lined with three rows of teeth, a large tongue lolling outside of the left jaw. "I had hoped for an answer before testing swords with you but I see you won't answer and will turn the calot loose on me. I will kill it, sir." Rastus Watts firmed his voice. "And then I will kill you!"
In the silence that followed Tan Hadron said," You're an idiot. Ras Thavas loves your mother. Loves her!"
Tavia dared reach across the table to touch the young man's arm. "We all love Junie Watts. After the death of Ras Thavas' wife..." Tavia looked pained and apologetic at the same time, "no other... I mean... she..."
Tan Hadron embraced his wife tenderly. "Shut up, darling."
Ras Thavas displayed a subdued smile. "Shut up, both of you. And thank you..."
Rastus Watts looked askance at the Odwar and his wife as Ras Thavas, the man his mother had told him was his father, pounded the back of the huge calot with a loving hand and said to the calot: "He's my son. No bites! We agreed. Remember?"
The young man lifted the goblet and took a long sip of the heady wine. When he placed it down he said to Tan Hadron: "Is he unhinged?"
Tan Hadron glanced at Ras Thavas and smiled. "As regards the calot—yes. Speak, Rastus Watts. Tell us why you think your father would kill your mother. Also know that I knew your mother and...and I know that Ras Thavas would never harm her. Speak, Rastus Watts!"
* * * * * * * *
I am the third and youngest of mother's children. She never knew the identity of the father of my brother and sister. Junie Watts came to Barsoom from Jasoom, which she called "Earth" and suffered a tragic beginning on our world. She had been a slave in an Okarian's chain for a time and later was taken by a First Born. Yosef and Dee are one hundred years older than I, and so are strangers in the regard that we did not grow up together—but that is often the way of Barsoom where we might live 1,000 years if we do not die of war or disease—and families become extended through the ages.
My brother left Thaandor only a few years after his majority. Where he is I do not know. He has not been heard of since. Perhaps he is dead.
My sister Dee, beautiful and ambitious, has out-lived three husbands and perhaps as many or more lovers. I do not like my sister. Her aspirations in life are not of my choosing, which means we have nothing in common except our mother. I do know that mother always turned sad whenever Dee's name was mentioned. I learned not to mention my sister's name.
I see your frown, Ras Thavas. Yes, I know who Dee was named after. I know what Dejah Thoris did for my mother when she came to Barsoom and that she traveled incognito as "Dee" and saved my mother from certain death in the outcast slum of Jhuma. I know that "Dee" is a name to treasure in Thilum where the wife of the warlord acted as an ordinary soldier and in Thaandor that name is still treasured for what the princess of Helium did to end a civil war...yet there is a "Dee" who does not have that same acclaim—she is my sister. I don't love my sister. Truth is I don't know my sister. All I know is that Mother and Dee fought for years. Sometimes it is was if the pimilia blossom appeared left in the window or to the right, or if the sleeping silks were folded just so or some other so—and that only during the few times Dee came to visit mother.
This is not quite correct, Ras Thavas...
I do not know my family because I did not come from the egg as do other children. I was an "infant", which is a Jasoomian word since Barsoomian females do not give live birth to inadequately formed off-spring. I was a different kind of egg. I did not grow in a shell in a sun-warmed incubator for five years, rather, I resided in mother's body for five months then was expelled as a tiny, dumb, pitiful infant that barely spanned two hands. I am told I nursed at mother's breast until I was two years old. Barsoomian females do not "lactate"—another Jasoomian word. Other hatchlings come from the mature egg at near adult size and do not "nurse." I remember none of this, of course, but I have been told and I have seen images that Karek Dal, the Dator's artist in Thilum, created of Junie Watts and me. I, like my brother and sister, are unlike any other children born on this planet—because our mother is not of this world. But you know that.
Mother had to go away for a time, I still do not know why. She was gone for years while I was raised by Dator Milieos of Thilum, a man mother admired and who understood my half-breed origin, her being Jasoomian and you being Barsoomian... Thilum, which city I know you visited once on a mission dire. He is a good man and he thought well of you. He knew you were my father and told me how great you were—each time I competed with the next batch of hatchlings and failed. I failed for ten years because I did not grow like the others. From the shell my rivals were half adult-size and it took me ten years to get there! But those ten years were not wasted...I learned language and writing and other skills which have stood me in good stead at each hatching...and how to deal with the rough-house and martial training. I might have been young and small, but I was not slow!
I am not ashamed of what I learned, even though I might have learned more had I been raised by my brilliant father... Hold, Tan Hadron, I merely speak the truth! What I mean is there is a thirst for learning in me. Mother said that is from you, Ras Thavas. Sometimes I thank you for that yearning, other times I weep for relief from that... I digress.
Mother returned at my sixteenth hatching... she called it a birth day. "How handsome!" she cried and hugged me. "How tall! So like your father!"
I learned to hate you, then. My father who was not there—who I had never seen. Milieos was my father because it was he who raised me alongside his own children and comforted me after each hatching of his own children who were better, stronger, and faster than I was until I was ten years old! After that I could compete, but they were still... Enough of my confused youth, Ras Thavas. You have no concept of what that was, nor, I suspect, have you any interest. I will tell you why I know you killed my mother.
I begged to go with mother. She was headed back to Thaandor. Where she had been I did not know, but she was going to Thaandor and I would not be left behind. I had pleaded with Milieos for a number of years to make this happen and he couldn't, though he did not say why. When I asked mother this time she said yes. In the Dator's own airship we flew to Thaandor!
What a different city than agricultural Thilum! Thaandor was an ancient city which once bordered a sea, gone a million years, and was perhaps as old as Horz itself; a place of strange wonders that embraced the old world and new, which meant an abundance of desert and inhospitable land, and science and barbarism. It lay in a location that did not embrace the traditional travel lanes of the airborne nations—a null on the map; yet was a place that was home, screamed home!, to me. Why? That is where my mother resided, where she had made her life on Barsoom. Where I should have lived if she could have cared for me in my formative years. The reason for that I have yet to learn, though I know it was by necessity, not her choice.
In Thaandor I lived in my mother's house, which presented the appearance of yet another ruin on the landscape of the outer ruins, yet was connected by a descending ramp to the vibrant underground city which is the real heart of Thaandor. There I met Torvaan Rok, Jeddak of Thaandor after the death of his father who you have known—the man who solved the mystery of Jasoomian dissolution at an early age, and also created the growth exciter formula which created the giant combatants used during the civil war against Nal Makor.
I was happy to be with my mother, after all those years, to have her near each day instead of once a year or every other year, for only a few hours. She was a beautiful woman with skin as black as the night sky, as filled with life as a rapid heart beat. Junie Watts, friend of Dejah Thoris of Helium, was the woman who gave of herself to your medical skills to save her friend many years after that civil war... but you know that. Of course you do. That's when you met my mother and took her to your bed.
Lady Tavia, please control your husband. I am speaking to my father. If Tan Hadron does not like what he hears he may leave, or he may die it—
—Sorry, Ras Thavas. You are correct. It is your house and I am the guest and my manners need polish. Still...
I have never seen such a friendly calot, Ras Thavas! Her tongue is like wet sandpaper and the head butts will knock from my chair. What an amazing animal!
Tan Hadron, I apologize. I am here to do one of two things...perhaps both: to face my father for the murder of my mother, and kill him for doing so. Down, calot! What is her name? Thasa Ras? Down, Thasa Ras, you great lovely beast! I must speak to your master.
Four years did I live in Thaandor with mother. Much of that time I spent in the Jeddak's Guard, learning the arts of a warrior and in my off-duty time learning from Torvaan Rok himself, who had followed in his father's footsteps as a scientist. His interests lay in energy and physics rather than medicine, though it is said both were brilliant men. I say "were" because Torvaan Rok now lies in a coma that not even Milieos, the Dator and master physician of Thilum, can penetrate. For a year has Torvaan Rok lain so. Mother had some training in medicine on Earth and had learned more from Milieos and Torvaan Rok's father, but her best efforts had availed naught. A few weeks back she said to me:
"I know a man who might help."
"Who?" I asked.
"I will go with you," I said.
"No, you are to be tested for rank. I shall return shortly."
"Another year will make no difference to me. I have learned to wait," I said.
"But I do not wish to wait for that!" Mother kissed me. "It is your time. I will return before the testing is completed. I promise."
What could I say? "Hurry home."
"I'll take Dee with me," Junie Watts said. "It is time for her to see the rest of Barsoom."
I sensed there was something mother kept from me regarding my sister, yet I did not dwell over long on that because there was such an eagerness in mother's voice, a quickness in her breathing when she said your name or mentioned New City of Thavas. I knew she went to seek help for our beloved Jeddak—but I also knew she hoped to see you again, Father.
Calot! Down! Does she sense rudeness? If so, it was intended, but not this soon because you have not heard the fullness of... Thasa Ras... damn it! How can you be so contrary one moment and so... Thank you, sir. Truly, she is not a bother. It is just that I have never seen such an empathetic creature before... What? Yes, mother left, with Dee and two warriors and flew to New City of Thavas. Dee returned a week later with one warrior, badly wounded, and reported how you met her and mother, I presume on the hanger of this very building, and cut Junie Watts down, the panthan, and wounded the second warrior as they re-entered the ...
* * * * * * * *
Ras Thavas shook his head. "I have not seen your mother since she left New City of Thavas before you were born. I did not know she had conceived. I would never harm your mother, Rastus Watts. I love her. I love her as I have loved only one other in my life..."
Rastus Watts frowned for two reasons. The sincere words spoken by Ras Thavas and because the calot had turned to lay her massive head upon the lap of the first citizen of New City of Thavas in such a manner that a grim melancholy was palpable.
The young man could not stop himself, "It is as if the beast..."
"Thasa Ras is not like other calots, my son. She is extraordinary. She hears the name of Junie Watts and remembers her. They had a bond. Now, if you don't mind, can you tell me why your sister might tell such a lie?"
"Yes. Lie about the death of your mother. For the sake of argument, by my hand, or any other. Why would she do that?"
Rastus Watts frowned. That expression intensified. As it did so he rose from the table—and so did Tan Hadron.
"My sister would not lie about such a thing!"
"For the sake of argument," Ras Thavas responded. "Think! If you are my son, and I believe you are!, think!"
Thasa Ras moved away from the master mind, but her head was down low, her jaws closed. The calot nudged Rastus Watts at the knees, then nudged harder until the man dropped back into the chair—at which point she laid her head into his lap, snorting almost playfully.
Ras Thavas glanced toward the odwar. "While you're up, bring us another bottle of wine?"
Tan Hadron narrowed his eyes, saw the situation diffused, then nodded. Tavia rose. "Some snacks?"
"Please," Ras Thavas replied, his eyes on his son.
The wine was delivered, an Artolian vintage this time, and Tavia fetched a tray of nuts and fruit—which was ignored by all. Ras Thavas waited until both were seated again before speaking to his son. "She lied. Dee, that is. Why?"
"Why would she lie?" Rastus Watts replied hotly. "Why would my sister say such a thing? Where is my mother?"
Tan Hadron said: "We know she is not in Thaandor, but we do know that she left there with your sister and two warriors, and only your sister and one warrior returned. How badly injured was that warrior?"
"A cut on his forearm," Rastus Watts replied. "Taken as he closed the hatch on the flier, escaping from..."
"A deep cut? From a sword? A radium pistol? What kind of wound was it? Perhaps self-inflicted?"
The young man scowled. "It could be any of those—except for the fact that Dee said it was from my father's sword!"
Tan Hadron looked to Ras Thavas. "Show him your swords."
Ras Thavas frowned. He reached down and unhooked the sheathed swords and laid them on the table, both long sword and short sword. He pushed the pair across the sorapus wood table top toward his son. "My weapons," he said.
Rastus Watts stared at the leather sheathes for a moment, then drew each of the blades far enough to display dull surfaces, unattended for quite some time. Rastus Watts noticed the smile on Tan Hadron's face. He also noticed the frown on Ras Thavas.
"May I?" the dark-skinned youth asked the odwar, gesturing toward his own long sword.
"Of course," the odwar replied with a smile, "as long as you understand there is a radium pistol pointed at you under the table."
"You won't need it," Rastus Watts replied. He unhooked his own service sword and lay it next to his father's. He gripped the hilt and exposed half of its length. The radium lights in the master mind's apartment were brilliantly reflected on that clean length of steel. Rastus Watts asked his father: "When was the last time you drew either weapon?"
Ras Thavas blinked, then offered a wry smile. "It has been a while. Certainly much longer than a week ago. Circumstantial evidence, apparently, indicates I haven't used either blade recently. Now, can you conceive of any reason why your sister might fabricate such a tale?"
"Is mother dead?"
"I do not know. Damn it, work with me!"
"As long as Torvaan Rok is in a coma there is a council of five who rule Thaandor. Dee is one of the five. Tan Hadron," Rastus Watts leaned on the table, "are there records of flights in and out of New City of Thavas?"
Tan Hadron rose, returning his radium pistol to its holster. "I like the way you think, sir. Grab your weapon. Let us go see."
Ras Thavas stood, then blinked a second time when Tan Hadron said: "You stay here! Tavia, keep him here. First Citizen, If there is a murderer about I cannot expose you to danger."
The master mind of Barsoom opened his mouth to protest then closed it when the odwar's wife laid a hand on his arm. "I will remain here," he said to the two men exiting the apartment, "for a quarter zode!"
The door closed. Ras Thavas looked into Tavia's concerned eyes then scowled when the calot's massive head butted into his knees. He knelt down. "I haven't forgotten you!" he said.
"I know. I like him!" the wife of Ras Thavas replied via the mental link that only they shared. "We would have made good strong..."
Ras Thavas shook the calot's massive head by the jaw, smiling wistfully. Then began a period of waiting, and Tavia watched as the master mind paced the room, glancing at the wall chronometer over his desk.
The door flew open. Jusaj made a hurry up gesture. "I've got a flier waiting!"
"Tan Hadron has located Junie Watts! They are on the way and..."
"I won't ask how you know, Jusaj," the master mind replied, "just know that I thank you for knowing all! Come, Tavia, Thasa Ras!"
All three humans raced to the rooftop hanger, the calot leading. A small patrol flier from the New City of Thavas navy waited. Moments later the trim ship split the thin atmosphere of Barsoom to the east. They passed the Defense Tower of New City of Thavas and several islands in the ecological reclamation preserve then descended to one of the islands licensed to a silian hunter camp. Hovering over the small island was one of New City's battle cruisers and a half dozen patrol boats, one of which was already landed beside the fortified building. The flier carrying the master mind settled next to that as Tan Hadron, Rastus Watts, and a half dozen thans in the New City naval force exited the hunter cabin. There were two men in custody and, walking arm in arm with Rastus Watts, his mother.
Tavia hugged Ras Thavas for an instant, then ran to greet her husband.
Jusaj grinned as Thasa Ras sported at his side, settling nervously as the majordomo gripped her mane.
Ras Thavas walked forward, his eyes moving between his son's and those of Junie Watts. "Kaor," he said, with an odd lump in his throat. "I heard you were dead."
Junie Watts smiled. She looked at her grinning son and pushed him away, laughing. Taking Ras Thavas' outstretched hands, with tears of relief and happiness coursing down her cheeks, the magnificent black woman said: "I heard you were stupid."
The master mind smiled. "It appears we have both been misinformed."
Tan Hadron gripped Rastus Watts by the neck when the young man started to open his mouth. The grip tightened when the son of Ras Thavas began to protest—and then he understood and willingly walked back to the waiting flier with the odwar.
Ras Thavas split his attention between the loading of the airship and Junie Watts. "Villains?"
"The worst," she replied. "The so-called council did not want me to see you. One of those men is from Thaandor. The other is one of your own willing to take a bribe. Neither of them were willing to kill me—at least for the fee my daughter and her friends provided."
"Perhaps they so intended. You look well."
"You look amazing."
"I can't stay."
"I wouldn't ask that—though I should. He's a handsome boy."
"All of that!"
"A night on the town? Then home tomorrow to spank the brat!"
"Do you mind if I send a thug or two along to help you?"
"Not at all. Damn it, come here!"
Jusaj and the calot watched as the panthans secured the hunter cabin—and Junie Watts kissed the master mind of Barsoom.
* * * * * * * *
"All's well that ends well! Thasa Ras said to her husband as the New City of Thavas battle cruiser departed with Junie Watts and Rastus Watts for the three day trip to Thaandor.
"Perhaps, but it will end..." Ras Thavas leaned against the balcony railing outside his tower apartment. His tone was even. Measured—sans the pleasure she had expected.
"What are you not telling me?"
"Junie Watts is dying. Cancer."
"You can save her!"
"Perhaps. She won't let me. Funny thing is," he said without laughing at all, "if her daughter and that council had waited a few months Junie Watts would have passed. As it is they exposed themselves and their slow poisoning of Torvaan Rok by attempting to have her murdered. Torvaan Rok will recover and live another 500 years. Junie Watts will," he sobbed once, "die within a few months."
Ras Thavas sagged upon the ersite balcony and sobbed as his wife attempted to hold him, clad in her body of the most successful predator of Barsoom.
* * * * *
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