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 © 2004
Dedicated to David "Nkima" Adams
David Adams has followed the adventures of Ras Thavas and the Calot for over a year; however, it was not the master mind of Mars that most intrigued his interest. Nkima recently sent me an email asking for more information regarding Jusaj, Ras Thavas' majordomo and aide. This little vignette relates how Jusaj came to be the left hand of Ras Thavas. The events in this story predate the events in Ras Thavas: The New City by nearly 80 years. In case you're wondering, Tan Hadron is the right hand of the First Citizen of the New City of Thavas.
I deal in death, a master murderer on a world of murderers. Unlike John Carter, who slays millions in wars meant to bring peace, I slay smaller numbers—for a profit. Barsoom is a dying world and for many life is a dreary, dangerous existence at best. In the course of that existence personal enemies and betrayals are common. To those wronged I bring satisfaction. To the targets of my patrons I bring relief from life. My activities are also a service to the unaware: by removing yet another mouth consuming limited resources, reducing by one the voice uttering annoying whines, conserving precious oxygen pumped by the atmosphere plants by eliminating a body. By one person at a time I better Barsoom—for the price of what can be contained in a leather pouch.
I have a family name. If I said it you'd know my rank, status, and education. You might wonder why I chose the grim trade, which I practice outside the Guild of Assassins—even they fear me. If you must know it was a woman who set my feet upon this path. If I said her name you'd recall her spectacularly ugly death. I won't say that name, unless you are a potential patron in need of references. Call me Jusaj and be a friend. To know my true name means someone wants you dead.
Oh, you are familiar with my name? Perhaps you shouldn't have said. I am a very private person and guard that privacy with extreme prejudice.
"There is a man who must die. My master sends this as way of introduction." The pouch had sufficient weight to shake the inn's table top.
Intrigued, I loosed the drawstring and looked inside. "I'm listening."
"Your target is a rather famous person. May my master count on you?"
"Not even John Carter is safe were I hired to end his life. Speak rapidly, my friend," I tucked the pouch into mine. "Your calling card is running out of time. Who is this target? If you know my name you know I kill only those most deserving of a trip down the River of Mystery."
"He is most famous for the evil of his medicine and for abominations of science. Surely Ras Thavas is a target worthy of your skills."
"I know the name." Indeed I did. Two hundred years ago my friend Pelar had lost the girl he wished to marry. Rumors were the perfection of her form had come to the attention of a woman ravaged by hideous disease who paid Ras Thavas to transplant her brain into the girl's young body. Pelar was obsessed in proving the rumor. Some years later he was found murdered. I never had sufficient proof of who killed him, but that debt was ever at the back of my mind.
The richly-dressed fob with a weak chin and watery eyes leaned forward. "Ten thousand tanpi for the death of Ras Thavas. Another ten thousand if it is done this week."
"Where is Ras Thavas?"
"Toonolian Marsh. Several islands not far from Toonol."
"That is some distance, friend. Ten thousand to look it over. Twenty thousand for the work—and another ten for promptness. You are, after all, hiring a professional who always delivers."
The steel in my voice made the other blanch. "I–I believe I can arrange that."
"Good. Tell me all you know of Ras Thavas."
* * * * *
The first ten thousand was largely used to acquire a twenty man cruiser. As time was of the essence I could not go by commercial transport and I was not satisfied with any of the ships I might be able to charter. The ship could be operated by one and that's how I left ——, throttles full and at altitude. Crossing six thousand haads took nearly one full revolution of Barsoom. Rather than seek lodging in Toonol, I located a small uninhabited island in the marsh, sealed the cruiser, and slept two zodes.
My information regarding Ras Thavas indicated the scientist was involved with building a new city on islands to the west of my location. My understanding was anyone was welcome, that none were turned away who showed a willingness to work. I believed that a down on his luck ship owner might find such work.
I was at the work site two days before I saw Ras Thavas from a distance. Even then I did not recognize him beneath the dust and spatter of mixing concrete for foundations of what appeared to be a rather large tower. There were several hundred on the project and there was no way for me to approach my target.
My next encounter with Ras Thavas was more personal. There was need of a ship to carry three persons severely injured during a scaffolding collapse. The master mind himself, the injured, and two others came aboard my ship, which was directed to Duhor, a city to the north.
"With all speed, Jusaj," Ras Thavas begged. "These men are in critical need of medical attention I cannot give since we have no facilities yet."
I had no objection, setting course and pushing the ship to its limits. This was a perfect opportunity to observe Ras Thavas, to gain more insight into his patterns of behavior. You might wonder why I did not kill him then. My instructions were to make his death as public as possible to render the building project unstable. I was in no hurry, I still had several days in which to make the bonus. The bonus was not important, however, perfection of the assignment was.
I do not know what I expected. The Ras Thavas accused of stealing Pelar's girlfriend was reputed to be most evil. I did not see that in the man who did not sleep during the four zode flight. His every waking moment, every action, was to these men with broken bodies. Nor did I see that Ras Thavas my patron's agent had painted as an upstart seeking to dethrone his master in Toonol.
In Duhor we were met by a tall man with skin the color of Therns but with black hair instead of blond. Ras Thavas embraced this man with gladness which was greater than the expediency of our trip.
"Thank you, Vad Varo, for allowing us to use your facilities."
"I am always at your service, master." The man commanded the group with him to carry the litters. Ras Thavas' men followed. I would have remained behind, but my target linked his arm though mine and we accompanied the procession.
Vad Varo was a physician of no mean skill. I saw this from the balcony above the operating arena, but his skills were those of child compared to the precision and brilliance of Ras Thavas. I frowned as I watched both men exert their efforts to mend and heal these workers. Again, I wondered what evil Ras Thavas had visited upon my patron. The rude huts I had seen on the island where the new city was being built did not seem like a thorn in anyone's side, much less an attempt to usurp a ruler in another city.
At the conclusion of the surgeries Vad Varo walked out with Ras Thavas. "We have wrought well, Ras Thavas. A week of convalescence and they can return to your project. Meanwhile, they are my guests and I would be pleased to provide transportation for them should you need to leave..."
The offer was an invitation which pleased Ras Thavas. He gripped the white man's arm and said, "Tempting as that is, my friend, I must return. There are good men at work, but I would feel better if I were there to oversee..."
Vad Varo laughed. "You were ever the one to let nothing happen without your knowledge. I see that has not changed. I may bring your patients back myself, with Valla Dia, of course."
"We'd be most happy to have you!" The master mind's face became solemn. "Thank you!"
The light of the setting sun made it appear there was moisture in the white man's eyes. "I owe you much and now that you are a man I can admire as well as envy, there is nothing I will not do for you."
"Farewell until we meet again, Vad Varo. Come, Jusaj. If you are not too weary, I would like to return as quickly as possible."
All that night, as we flew southward, I thought of that heavy pouch locked in the ship's safe.
* * * * *
Ras Thavas was a master architect and engineer as well as scientist and physician. My ship was put to work raising girders as the tower's walls and interior floors took shape. Usually large expensive machines were used in that form of construction, but Ras Thavas had devised a magnetic lifting apparatus which attached to my ship. I was able to lift as much as a dozen tons of beam and bar used to reinforce forms into which concrete was poured from an equally ingenious bucket and pulley system. Ras Thavas stood at the highest construction, directing my ship with hand movements and voice commands. It would be so easy to release a load of girders or drown him in cement and then collect the remainder of my reward. But an accident was not my patron's desire. The death had to be public and had to be known as the wrath of Toonol. For the latter I was in possession of a flag and metal of Toonol which was to be placed on the body at the time of the murder. A man of my skill had no difficulty in accomplish those requests, but I had not yet found a suitable time and place.
Ras Thavas greeted me when I grounded the ship for the night. "Well done, Jusaj! Come, see what we are building together!"
I had no reason to refuse, thus walked into the impressive ground floor entrance and up the first set of spiraling ramps to the floor above. Each level would have easily held six ships the size of mine–unbroken expanses of perfectly set concrete just waiting for flooring, walls, division. The next floor and next had windows that looked over the verdant marsh. I saw a silian in a nearby channel that was as long as my ship. A banth on the next island over worried at some kill it had made. The plans for the tower indicated a total of ten levels, any two of which could house the entire work force and their families.
"This is an impressive tower, Ras Thavas. But why so large for such a small population?"
"This city will be small for a time, Jusaj, but it will grow. It will become a center of learning, healing and peace. It will be home to the homeless, the outcast, the refugees of the many wars in this area. Here Barsoom as it should be will flower."
"The dream is more impressive than the construction, sir. Few nations trade peacefully, even fewer people deal with honesty and honor. All you will accomplish is the gathering of the weak and the rapacious. Established governments have difficulty controlling citizens born into their societies. How can you expect harmony in a gathering of humans who would not be here if they had some place to go?"
"I did not say it will be easy, Jusaj. I know, more than those, how difficult this will be."
We stood at the top of the tower looking at the camp where group cooking fires glowed and women were at work. Hunters dressed kills made in the swamps. Workers washed in troughs and even from here I could hear their laughter. Ras Thavas turned away from the camp to look upon the work accomplished this day. He gripped my shoulder with excitement.
"Men like you, Jusaj. Men like you will make this city strong."
"What city? Have you given it a name?"
The master mind blinked, then self-consciously laughed. "I have not given that any thought. What would you call it, Jusaj?"
"Belabor the obvious, sir. 'New City of Thavas.'"
Ras Thavas smiled. "Come, let's eat." When we reached the community table the master mind called for attention. "Jusaj has named our home. Hence forth we are the New City of Thavas."
A pretty girl to my right clapped her hands. "It is all so new! Yes! Jusaj!"
I am not fond of the lime light, especially when I'm embarrassed.
* * * * *
The date for the bonus had passed and I had not yet killed Ras Thavas. I am a professional. I will kill him. The time and place had yet to occur.
I turned from the makeshift desk in my room on the third level of the tower. "Yes, Ras Thavas?"
"Is your ship ready to run to Duhor?"
"Always. Why? The hour is late."
"Yes. There has been trouble. A man was killed over a woman, and she may die."
I gathered my weapons and stood. "When you are ready."
Now that part of the tower was habitable, few lived outside where attacks by the marsh monsters was always a threat. I followed Ras Thavas through the halls and up to the roof where a hanger had been built to house my ship and three smaller vessels. A knot of people stood near a litter beside my ship. The face on the litter was that of the girl who had clapped and had brought me food and drink during work shifts, who had even got me to dance a few nights ago.
I said nothing, but the sight of her near bloodless face stirred me in a way I had not felt in many years. I took my place at the controls and guided my ship out of the hanger and toward Duhor. I leaned over the controls as if that would give more speed.
I was not aware Ras Thavas had come forward until he placed a hand on my shoulder. "What happened?" I asked.
"Rojina declined the advances of one of the men. Her brother interceded and was killed."
"Who did it?" I asked, very interested in the response.
"I don't know. He was one of the new men. How long?"
"I would get out and push if it would make the ship go faster. A zode and a half, sir. Will she make it?"
"I've done what I can. It's up to her now—and what we can do with proper equipment." Ras Thavas must have seen something in my eyes. His grip tightened, almost painfully. "I will do whatever is possible. Know that."
I nodded, not trusting my voice. Ras Thavas went below and I checked again to see what else I might do to squeeze one more haad of speed.
* * * * *
I did not want to return to New City but Ras Thavas ordered me back. There were vitally needed shipments which needed to be picked up from Phundahl. He would stay in Duhor because at least two more surgeries were necessary to repair the damage to Rojina's spinal chord. I would have refused if not for the fact that the girl had stabilized. Ras Thavas allowed me to visit Rojina before leaving. She could not speak to me because of the medications and her injury. She did smile with her eyes.
"I have to go," I said, holding Rojina's hand. "I will find who killed your brother and did this to you." Her eyes went wide. There was no other expression on her face, yet I knew she was unhappy with my vow. "This cannot go unpunished!" I whispered.
How I knew a great sadness filled her thoughts I cannot say, but I sensed it and rather than cause her pain and anguish I said, "I will do nothing until we can speak of this. The important thing is that you fully recover."
From Duhor to Phundahl was an overnight. From Phundahl to New City was a day flight. I directed the unloading of the ship then carried out some instructions Ras Thavas had given me. I spoke to several construction leaders about changes, though most of the meetings dealt with new problems. Ras Thavas was not present but I had spent so much time with Ras Thavas that I knew what he would do, so spoke in his name to keep the projects going.
The next morning I was awakened by a construction foreman needing an answer. I had listened to Ras Thavas speak as he looked over plans, which I consulted a second time in his untidy office abode which was down the hall from mine. The question was resolved, but before the man left I asked why he had come to me.
"Ras Thavas was not here. You were, Jusaj."
I went about my duties, though my thoughts were never far from that girl who couldn't smile, laugh or...
I met the Duhorian ship as soon as it berthed at our rough air terminal. The captain was a pleasant, competent fellow. I looked over his shoulder expecting to see Ras Thavas. "There was a complication with his patient's follow up surgery. He sent this and asked that you handle it."
The captain turned over a leather brief containing numerous notes. A glance revealed instructions of various kinds. On top was a letter to me.
As one of the newer arrivals at New City of Thavas you have yet to be aligned with any group, though I believe you will eventually find your niche. Because of this you are neutral about all things, thus can speak for me until I return. I have included some thoughts and requests. In all things make your own decisions. I trust your judgement.
PS. Rojina will recover fully. The nerve splicing seems to be working.
"Jusaj," the Duhorian politely interrupted, "where should I unload my cargo?"
Because of demands on my time I located several competent pilots among the new citizens and placed my ship in their hands. To be closer to Ras Thavas' office I relocated my quarters to the same corridor and across the hall so that I could hear when someone came looking for Ras Thavas. Over the next few days I expended so much energy walking from office to apartment that it was more expedient that I do the work Ras Thavas asked in his office. I didn't notice when it changed, but visitors to the office did not ask for the master mind, they came to see me.
To answer questions clearly and quickly I made myself familiar with the plans, collected notes, and other articles in Ras Thavas' office. I was amazed that a man as brilliant as Ras Thavas had little or no organizational skills. The shelves were chaotic. Notes on medical procedures were mixed with drawings for buildings. Engineering diagrams were filed with agricultural reports. Though I dealt with many people each day, their time in the office was short. I needed something to occupy my mind and hands so I rearranged Ras Thavas' office. I didn't care if he was unhappy with me as I still intended to kill him.
* * * * *
I awoke with a start. My head rose from my forearm atop a small pile of papers on Ras Thavas' desk. Three days without sleep: A building foundation disaster that luckily resulted in few injuries–none serioius, nocturnal jaunts to discover who murdered Rojina's brother and nearly killed her, and a full day of combat with a trio of airships filled with brigands.
"Sir!" I rose from his desk, a trifle embarrassed to have fallen asleep.
Ras Thavas put down the bag he carried and looked around. "I thought I was in the wrong office."
"I'll show you where everything is."
"Don't bother. As long as you can find it when I have need. Dutak and the others speak very highly of your management skills. I'm afraid I am not as well gifted in that department."
"I don't believe that for a moment, but thank you. How is... How was your stay in Duhor?"
"Come and see."
Ras Thavas gestured we exit. I walked beside him to the floor below and to the community hall. A knot of people at the center of the room were smiling and laughing. When we approached I saw the reason: Rojina—as lovely as ever. As soon as our eyes met, she begged leave of the gathering and ran forward. The man I expected her to embrace smiled when her arms went about my neck.
The master mind suddenly bellowed: "Wine! Is there any wine?"
At that moment I had no need of intoxicants.
* * * * *
"These attempts at piracy and hijacking are becoming more organized, Ras Thavas."
"I know, Jusaj. I had hoped for a city of peace."
"Peace is best preserved by being strong enough to demand it."
"A militia or small standing navy. We have three good ships, but only one is armed."
"Few among our people are military or ex-military."
"New City of Thavas can choose to act as do other cities."
"Barsoom is filled with panthans. A mercenary force would be better than none."
Ras Thavas rose from his desk, his mind still occupied with the drawings spread on the clean surface. "I agree. Make inquiries. Assemble costs. Budget. Let me know. Anything else?"
"I would recommend dinner since you missed lunch."
"So I have! Why don't you and Rojina join me?"
"I'm sure she'd be pleased." I looked at the wall chronometer I had installed in Ras Thavas' office since he had such difficulty being on time. "Quarter zode, sir."
I went to Rojina's quarters which she shared with several young ladies. The invitation was readily accepted and we walked arm in arm toward the tower's main dining hall. Rojina's cheerful recital of her day faded and it wasn't until she stopped me that I was aware I wasn't truly listening.
"What is it, Jusaj? For the last few days you have been very distant."
"Unfinished business, Rojina. It is nothing. I will put it from my mind. Let us enjoy dinner."
Ras Thavas, as usual, was a bit late, but earlier than I expected. I had not yet ordered dinner. He sat down, greeting Rojina with a pat on the hand. "You look lovely tonight. What a handsome couple you make."
Rojina laughed sweetly as I placed orders for the meal. "Thank you, and no thank you. I do not need your help with Jusaj. We are just friends."
"Are you?" Ras Thavas smiled, looking at us until Rojina blushed and I felt uncomfortable. "Forgive me for having a little fun. Jusaj, would you be interested in continuing in your capacity as my majordomo and aide? Yes, I am the smartest man alive, but not smart enough to have found you sooner!"
Rojina gasped happily for me, then composed herself in an instant. I was flattered and said as much, "but let me think on it while I'm in Toonol. I still have to get that information you requested."
"Agreed," the master mind frowned slightly, "but is that destination the best choice?"
"The men we seek come from everywhere, sir. I'll find them just about everywhere as well. Ah, the meal comes!"
* * * * *
What I said to Ras Thavas about recruiting panthans was true, however, Toonol was chosen for a second reason. After entering the city via airship, I located a specific address and waited while the servant fetched his master. My patron's agent looked a little annoyed at the early visit until he recognized me. Saying nothing, he guided me into a room and closed the door.
"It is done?"
I opened my belt pouch and tossed it on a table. "I am here to return all but ten thousand of your advance. I'm keeping that because you were not forthright in obtaining my service. I made you well aware that I only take special cases." I turned to leave.
"You can't quit! You accepted payment and service is expected."
I paused at the door. "Do not annoy me. You won't like what happens." I saw the crafty gleam in his eye and added, "You I will do for fun. Your master I will do for free."
He did not look so crafty when I left.
I stopped at an inn near the hanger where I left my ship. In short order I located six panthans looking for work and were disciplined enough to not drink up all their earnings. Four were from Helium, one from Manator, the other from Kaol, men from distant lands unlikely to have any ties to local politics or schemes. Three I gave specifications for the type of men desired and sent them to locate ten more and meet me at the hanger.
Upon arrival at New City of Thavas I housed all sixteen in one of the older buildings which was presently unoccupied. "Your allegiance is to Ras Thavas. You will take orders from him or me until further notice. Enjoy New City of Thavas tonight. Tomorrow you will receive specific orders."
The hour was late, but the ship's arrival had not been unnoted. Rojina waited in the shadows of the tower and came to me. We kissed, not our first, and I held her tightly. I held her in such a way that the girl drew back, confused.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "I thought..."
"It's not you. As I said, unfinished business. Wait here one-half zode. If I do not return we were not meant to be, but if you are here and I do return, we will be forever. I can't explain."
"As you wish. But tell me this, are you going to kill a man?"
I thought of Ras Thavas but knew she meant the man who had harmed her. "No." I kissed her and went directly to the master mind's office.
I knew he would be there. Ras Thavas had unusual hours. He never seemed to sleep. When he did even then he seemed involved in thought or creativity. He listened to my report and then waited. He knew I was not finished.
There was no way to put it. "I was hired to kill you, Ras Thavas."
"And now is the time?" he asked, not moving, staring calmly into my eyes, unafraid.
"I returned the money and resigned. I was led to believe you deserved killing."
Ras Thavas rose, reaching for a decanter and two glasses. He poured wine and offered a glass to me. "I know. I appear scatterbrained and unorganized, and there is some truth in that, but I am not a stupid man. But I am a good judge of men. I became one when I learned how to judge myself and the evil I did in a past life. I probably deserve that murder, Jusaj, for what I have done previously. I'm not sure that even a second lifetime will allow me to atone. I still want you as my aide."
"Especially because of that. I have few friends. I made many enemies. I have kept my own counsel for the last century and avoided humanity, but I realize I cannot accomplish what my heart tells me I must do without help. If a reformed mad scientist can do good, perhaps a reformed assassin can do no less."
Thus I became Ras Thavas' man, a decision never regretted.
Rojina and I married. We attended Ras Thavas' wedding to Thasa Ras. My sons are captains in Odwar Tan Hadron's Defense Force. Whatever Ras Thavas needs I anticipate and do. I buffer the master mind from the outside world, yet make sure those who need to see him are given instant access. When Ras Thavas and the calot explore Barsoom I act in his place at New City of Thavas. There is a governing council evolving as the city takes on a life of its own and I will be able to devote more time to my master's needs.
I once dealt in murder. These days I deal in life.
* * * * *
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