David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2004
Copyright © 2004
Editor's Note: This story is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series and WHEN THE PRINCESS DISAPPEARED, a novel length pastiche by David Bruce Bozarth, Andy Nunez, Don Bearden, and Terry Klasek
I have an intellect that creates difficulty--for myself and others. In my youth I shunned humanity with the sole exception of learning every arcane science or medical knowledge known. Such obsession can be expensive. As a matter of expedient necessity I turned new gained wisdom to the procurement of funds performing complicated medical procedures: re-attachment of limbs lost by combat or accident, replacement of weak or defective hearts for the very rich--much frowned upon by fellow physicians and entire governments since Barsoomian cultures in general turn a blind eye on those who do not have normal physiologies. Our world is a harsh and desolate environment and most physicians and governments believe only the strong, not the defective, should survive. Still, if the patient could afford my services I cheerfully made the weak better. After a time it became more profitable to make the already healthy more perfect, for such is human vanity that the majority always wish to be superior to the majority. Because of this vain desire verging on obsession and the expenses in my quest to create artificial life had become even more monstrous, I became a monster, too.
How to make those with significant wealth more perfect? Procure a healthy body more handsome or beautiful and put their brain inside--and charge the annual budget of a medium-sized country. The surgery itself is not simple, in fact it is so complicated that I killed more than three hundred healthy animals and some fifty healthy human slaves and criminals before there was partial success. Over the years hundreds of experimental surgeries were performed with varying degrees of success until I eventually perfected a method which guaranteed satisfactory results. I believe I was nearly eight hundred years old by that time, again broke and in need of funds. For two hundred years I performed thousands of surgeries of the ordinary sort, and usually five "special surgeries" a year for only the very wealthiest. One of the brain transplants intended was one which would gave me a new body–regrettably I was as vain as any other.
All now know the story of Vad Varo, a man from Jasoom. He arrived at Old Thavas about the time I transplanted the brain Xaxa of Phundhal into that of a young Duhorian princess. The girl's brain was placed in the old hag's body. How I obtained that girl's body is a sad tale I will not repeat--even now it brings a flush of remorse.
My agenda of immortality by surgery occupied my aging, fevered brain. I was not aware of young Vad Varo's silent intent regarding the young girl's brain in the worn out body of Xaxa. I controlled his very existence and the Jasoomian fully understood the consequences of failing to achieve my goal: transferring my brain into the most perfect male body I had located. Whose mind once occupied this exquisite shell I had not cared, having destroyed the brain and storing the body in a form of suspended animation until I might train someone trustworthy in the procedure. Suffice it to say Vad Varo applied himself to gaining medical knowledge with a determined will. In time the Jasoomian was ready to perform the surgery. My brain was placed in the body I had maintained for years. New vigor coursed through my veins, the senility which I had experienced unaware began to evaporate, and life became immediately more complicated.
Vad Varo, operating on an agenda of his own, defied me, escaped, and eventually restored the mind of Valla Dia to her own body. He married her and rose to a position of power in her country. I, on the other hand, resumed my experiments in artificial life and created an army of hormads with the intent of conquering Barsoom. Unfortunately, my "subjects" rebelled, squabbled amongst themselves, keeping me prisoner while the creation process ran amok. All Barsoom was threatened with annihilation by bad science. John Carter eventually saved the day by destroying the hormad menace. On that day I swore an oath that no more would I do harm. And I have--for the most part--kept that vow.
Several hundred years after the above event I returned to the Toonolian Marsh and rebuilt Old Thavas as New City of Thavas--a center of learning and sanctuary for those seeking a home or new opportunity. In time a thriving small city/state rose and became an object of desire as to be plundered by neighboring nations--which resulted in New City of Thavas assembling a military sufficient to protect ourselves. Over the years we have proved to be a somp too difficult and dangerous to pluck.
I taught advanced medicine at the Tower of Learning. Eager minds were cultivated in hopes they would go and make the lives of Barsoomians everywhere better, with the exception of the knowledge of brain transplants, as this was a basis of my oath to John Carter and the Thirty-One Jeddaks of Barsoom.
When I found my wife to be all changed. I found her one morning, fresh from an egg buried in muck outside the Southern Gate. Orphaned or abandoned, I named her, raised her, gave Thasa Ras the best of my knowledge and experience. I doted on her achievements and was surprised when she came to me with expressions of love quite different than those of a ward. We married. Her lessons continued, her knowledge increased, and eventually her base ambitions led to betrayal of our vows. I had every right under law and tradition to execute Thasa Ras, but I could not. I truly loved her. Yet, I could no longer trust her with the knowledge she had learned, thus I transplanted her brain into the body of my hunting calot. Without hands she could do no harm. Without speech she could not mislead others--though I did allow a private telepathic link from her brain to mine alone. Without me she could not regain her human form--and would not regain it until I believed Thasa Ras recognized the error of her ways.
And thus it has been for seventy five years; Thasa Ras constantly at my side, the "wonder calot of Ras Thavas," who fetched my kills in the swamp, protected me from attack by creatures or humans, and became my travel companion when I set out to explore Barsoom. Our adventures have been many. We have saved each other's lives numerous times. We have discovered wonders, re-discovered lost wonders, and visited places known and unknown. We speak, we fight, and yes, we love after a fashion. Thasa Ras loves me in her way but she is a child in others. Growing up in the house of a man with fourteen hundred years life experience had given my wife a distilled, and distorted, view of life and knowledge. When she betrayed me at the age of fifty-one Thasa Ras was still a child by the standards of many Barsoomian cultures--yet her knowledge of science and medicine was surpassed by only two others on the planet, myself and Vad Varo.
Jusaj suggested years ago that I keep a diary of personal thoughts as a means of organizing myself and, possibly, something for posterity in years after my death. I have just read that first page again. Looking at the calot stretched in the sunlight on the balcony of our second story apartment I still see the slim girl more regal in appearance than most of the princesses of Barsoom. Her body still appears that way, hidden in a secret vault beneath New City of Thavas.
I looked up when Jusaj entered. "You have a visitor, master."
The hour was late. "Tell them to see me in my office in the morning."
"You should see this visitor, Ras Thavas." He did not elaborate, escorting a veiled woman into my quarters.
The moment the veil descended, I came to my feet. "Dejah Thoris! What a happy surprise! Is John Carter waiting?"
"He doesn't know I am here." To Jusaj she said, "May we be alone?"
At my nod Jusaj withdrew and closed the door. I offered a chair to the Princess of Helium, wife of John Carter. There was that in her expression which kept my tongue still until she was ready to reveal why she had come to New City, apparently alone.
"I have need of your medical skills yet again, Ras Thavas. I am not sure where to begin."
I took a chair opposite and smiled. "The beginning is a good place."
Dejah Thoris spoke of an adventure she had when she was much younger. For a little more than two months she disappeared, taking a leave of absence which was never explained. The princess gave me the highlights of her experience: finding a pregnant Jasoomian female and caring for her until the infants (twins) were born. During that time she was involved in a local war between a small town and a branch of the Warhoon tribes. The Warhoons attacked Thilum and the fighting was bitter. Dejah Thoris, the Jasoomian, and a First Born named Milieos, with others, took the town's only airship to get reinforcements.
All through her account I noticed small, odd behaviors. A trembling in her right hand, a recurring tic in her right eye, a slump to her left shoulder...a slight wheeze to her breathing. At a point where it would not be rude to interrupt, I asked if she would like something to drink.
"Nothing strong, but yes. Thank you."
The water poured from the decanter was clear. We distilled our drinking water directly from the swamps of the Toonolian Marsh which surrounded the joined islands of New City of Thavas. Refreshed from the break, Dejah Thoris continued.
"That is the beginning, Ras Thavas. I have told you this in case there might be meaning there, however, the part I will now relate is where I believe..."
"She is mortally terrified, husband."
Thasa Ras had watched and listened without comment, but I had not required the confirmation of my wife's heightened calot senses to know the princess of Helium was greatly troubled. "Let us hear what else she has to say." To the woman who used both hands to hold the glass of water I smiled gently. "Tell it until you reach the end, Dejah Thoris."
"Our intent was to fly to Kamtol, but the flier failed and we landed near an ancient city." She took a deep breath. "Thaandor."
I did not blink or otherwise remark on the startling statement. Thaandor was a myth, at least that is what the historians of Barsoom believe. "And?"
"Thaandor was not a dead city. Hidden for centuries is a race of brown skinned men which they believe came about by a blending of First Born and Therns stranded in that area and mutually dependent upon each other. I do not know the truth of that, but I do know that Maj Lantor, one of their scientists, was involved in medical research as advanced as yours. Because I have been in his laboratory, fought a battle in Thaandor where biological weapons were used, I believe something happened to me. Others have died. I am dying, Ras Thavas."
"Not today, dear princess. Nor anytime soon if I have anything to say about it. The answer to your as yet unasked question is 'yes.' Shall we go to my office where I can give you a thorough examination?"
"That is one of the questions I intended to ask. However, the answer to this question is the one that matters: May I trust you will reveal nothing of what I have said to anyone? Not even my husband may know. I need that promise, Ras Thavas--and if I had been thinking more clearly, I would have demanded that from you before speaking at all."
"You have my word." I bent and offered my hand, which Dejah Thoris took. I was startled at her weak grip.Thasa Ras swiftly warned: "Catch her! She's fainting!"
Dejah Thoris lay on the operating table. Before I gave her the anesthetic I asked once again, "Are you sure? For all practical intent and purpose you will be dead."
"The death you give me now, Ras Thavas, you can undo. The death that awaits if you do nothing is forever."
"Sleep, your highness."
The gas and her own weakness worked quickly. I looked to Jusaj, the only other occupant in the isolated chamber in one of the buildings of Thavas. "Begin recording images. We must document all for when the time comes."
"John Carter will seek his wife," Jusaj agreed.
"You cannot reveal the location of her body." I said while hooking up tubing to pumps that would remove the blood from the woman's veins. In the opposite arm were other tubes which would inject the preserving fluid that stopped all biological functions, at viral, cellular, and organ levels.
I had no choice in what I was about to do. To do nothing Dejah Thoris would die within weeks. Yet, I was going to kill her just as surely. Jusaj continued his recording as I checked for the third time the condition of the patient, my equipment, and my memories of an old trade.
"What if John Carter does not believe me, master?"
I took up the scalpel and made a bloodless incision across the beautiful forehead of Dejah Thoris. I peeled back her scalp. "He will believe, Jusaj." My rotary saw began cutting the woman's skull.
Jusaj said nothing during the rest of the operation. I was glad of that. I had thought I would perform this procedure only one more time in my life, restoring Thasa Ras' brain to her body, but Fate had decreed otherwise. My majordomo took images of the vacant cavity where Dejah Thoris' brain once resided, of the vat with a mixture of nutrients and preservatives into which that brain was deposited, of closing the skull and reattaching the scalp. He looked quite shaken when I straightened with a sigh.
"You will keep the entire recording in a safe place, Jusaj. I will select portions of it which you may show John Carter if the need arises. Now, record me. I have a message for John Carter."
Jusaj turned the device in my direction. I began speaking as I removed the powered optics which allowed me to perform the delicate micro-surgery.
"Your wife came to me for help. Her condition is extremely serious. The only way I can treat her is to suspend all activity in her body and brain until such time I can develop a cure. This operation is the only way to give Dejah Thoris the time needed. I cannot save Dejah Thoris by putting her brain in another body--what is destroying her body is also destroying her brain. Only by this extraordinary measure can I stop further progression of her condition. Because of your wife's instructions I cannot tell you where I must go to research her condition. It is possible months may elapse before I return.
"Since you are Warlord of Barsoom and prince of Helium the utter secrecy of what has happened should be apparent. Dejah Thoris is safe. Her location is unknown except to one, he who will give you this when you ask. Though it pains me to say this it is in your best interest and hers to think your wife dead. She truly is beyond all pain or joy that this world can bring. All that your enemies might do is take her mortal remains but even in that event, they would not have her.
"Trust your wife's good sense. There are many reasons why she chose to do this alone and in secret. You have my word that I will do all I can to save Dejah Thoris and restore her health."
There were other things I might have said, but none would give comfort to the mate of Dejah Thoris. "Terminate, Jusaj. Meet me in the apartment a half zode from now."
I had to travel to Jhuma, a city smaller than New City of Thavas. Jhuma lay between Zodanga and Kaol near the equator. The trade road passed through the city east and west, and west I had to go from there to reach Thilum. I had to make the journey with only Thasa Ras as my companion as there were few I could trust with Dejah Thoris' secrets. Thilum, a town of mixed races led by Dator Milieos was not the secret, Thaandor the city of myth was her secret. If what Dejah Thoris told me about Thaandor was accurate, and there was no reason for her to lie, the occupants of Thaandor were unique and had science that was dangerous if the aggressor powers of the planet could obtain it. To protect that secret I chose the guise of a jewel merchant which explained the guard calot, my weapons, and the fairly large case in my belongings.
I arrived at Jhuma via a Duhorian freighter, a round bellied airship of six-hundred tons. In the city I procured a pair of thoats, one as a pack animal. The thoats were good stock and moved well, which put me forty haads west of Jhuma by nightfall. I stayed at a small inn surrounded by a half-dozen rustic businesses. The proprietor was a silent sort, which suited me. The night passed without incident and before sunrise Thasa Ras and I were again on the road.
"These thoats could use a run," my wife suggested. "Don't hold the pace because of me. Need I remind you the wild calots run down thoats for meals?"
"I wasn't thinking of you, dear Thasa Ras. I was thinking of my rump astride this animal."
I heard her laugh in my mind. "A lovely rump it is! All young and hard and..."
"Flattery will get you nowhere. A run wouldn't hurt."
More than eighty haads had passed beneath the nail-less pads of the thoats when we stopped for the midday meal. The great beasts were good for another hundred haads before sundown, marvelous creatures of endurance and speed. Thasa Ras and I decided to test that endurance, making the best part of ninety haads a quarter zode before nightfall. We camped a haad south of the trade road, partly because there was a grove of mantalia and usa and because I had no desire to be on the road at night. Brigands were not unknown. Nothing untoward occurred--and so it was for the next two days: travel, sleep, then travel again.
I did not need to consult the map Dejah Thoris had drawn with unsteady hand. The landmarks described appeared in turn and there was the red ridge where I should turn south. Two zodes later I walked the thoats into the main street of Thilum. So well did the princess of Helium describe this town that I recognized the small house where she, Junie Watts--the Jasoomian female--, and Milieos had lived nearly 400 years earlier. The house had been Milieos' when he was the town's physician. Now he was Dator Milieos, and by all reports was a good leader.
The guard at the dator's fortress-like residence was smart and efficient. I dismounted and offered a pleasant greeting. "I bring a message from Dee to Dator Milieos."
The padwar, a man of the red race, gestured that I wait in the courtyard with a small, lovely garden. He sent a man into the building with the message. The guard returned not long after and spoke to the officer, who smiled at me. "It seems your cryptic message has great meaning. Dator Milieos will see you now."
Milieos met me halfway down the main corridor. He was a large, well-muscled man, his black skin set off by small personal adornments of gold and silver gleaming like stars in the night sky. He offered his hand in embrace.
"Dator Milieos, my message is for your ears alone."
The padwar had accompanied me from the entrance. His back stiffened at my words, but before he could urge caution to his master, Dator Milieos waved him silent. "Ask Yona who is Dee, then you'll understand why I have nothing to fear from this man. Sir, come this way."
There was a small room down a side corridor. The door was closed, then the First Born asked, "What news of Dee?"
I wasted no time. "She is dying. She believes, and my examination of her condition seems to agree, that she encountered something in Thaandor which is destroying her nervous system."
Milieos registered an instant of shock and concern, then nodded gravely. "There have been side effects. A small number of – what do you know about that day?"
"Enough. There was a battle. Biological weapons were used. Dee mentioned others, but did not elaborate."
"There have been more cases over the last twenty years than the previous three hundred. Have her symptoms reached..." Over the next few moments Milieos revealed how well he had maintained his medical knowledge. Our discussion would have confused all but a handful of master physicians. Milieos was not happy when the exchange slowed. "It sounds as if you have, in short time, discovered everything we know and then investigated every procedure tried. I am afraid I have nothing more to offer, Ras Thavas."
"Dee said she had every confidence in you. But she also has every confidence in me. It is her desire that I go to Thaandor and speak to Maj Lantor, to look at his work, to see if a different perspective might bear fruit."
"I shall take you there myself. Today."
Milieos was good to his word. I was in Thaandor just after midnight.
Maj Lantor was an old man, tall, impressive, but wracked with the rheumatism of advanced age, that period at the end of the Barsoomian life span when rapid declines occurred. His voice was strong and his mind was sharp. He had only recently passed his mantle of Jeddak to his son Torvaan Rok. There was still that aura of authority in his figure.
"Ras Thavas. We finally meet."
"You know of me?"
"By reputation. Thaandor is on the way to everywhere for those who travel by air. Years ago we kept our city hidden by capturing fliers and integrating or murdering their occupants. When I came to power the practice of murder ceased, but none who come to Thaandor are ever allowed to leave."
"I hope an exception will be made in my case," I said. "The life of the princess of Helium depends on that."
"Of course, Ras Thavas. Thaandor owes much to Dee. If not for her brave actions that day...but that is another story. Tell me, how may I help?"
"The nature of the biological agent used?"
"A growth exciter."
"And the side-effects?"
"For those who were in contact with the dispersed agent but did not exhibit the growth spurt, a late reaction in nerve tissues, breakdown of synaptic electrical currents, gradual decay and dissolution of cell membranes, followed by death--usually painful."
"May I see your notes and records?"
"You may see all that remains. There was a fire about ten years back. Much of what you seek was destroyed."
Maj Lantor made everything available to me. I spent a day familiarizing myself with his records and the materials and procedures used. I also learned the growth exciter was not his original goal--he had been involved in research to prolong the life of his Jasoomian wife, a woman who was brought here in a space ship of Maj Lantor's design. The man who assisted me was largely successful in extending his wife's age, but the fragile Jasoomian body eventually failed and that long ago pain etched his wrinkled face.
"I got it right," Maj Lantor sighed. "Junie Watts, Dee's friend, has enjoyed extraordinary health and success from the treatment."
I heard the "If only–" in his voice and sympathized. "Your longevity serum–it represents a large part of the growth exciter formula. Perhaps it would be helpful to examine Junie Watts. Is that possible?"
"She is waiting. I sent for her, certain you would come to that conclusion. Junie Watts will do anything for Dee because she would have died if not for the princess of Helium."
Maj Lantor went to the far door of the laboratory. A striking black woman entered. Her features were subtly different from those of the First Born, a flattened nose, large lush lips, high cheek bones. Exotic. Beautifully so. Maj Lantor brought her to the work table. "Junie Watts, this is Ras Thavas. Dee's physician."
The girl took a seat. "How far along is the disease?"
"No further harm can come to her for the moment," I did not explain why. "This is not a disease. I fear it is something less desirable because a disease can be studied and cures found. What ails your friend is a systemic poison. Chemical reactions which increase over time."
"Maj Lantor says you are the greatest mind on Barsoom. Save her."
"I will do my best. With your permission, may I examine you and make some tests?"
"You would suffer my wrath if you did not abuse me every way possible."
Analysis of Junie Watts' tissue and fluids is remarkable. I have seen things not found in Barsoom physiology. Jasoomian cells and metabolism work quite differently and, in many ways, is superior to Barsoomian. Energy levels are higher, stronger reflex and reaction times. Immune systems vastly greater than ours. Reproduction, from conception to birth is two-thirds of our year, though maturity, or near maturity, is closer to 8 of ours instead of 5-6 years. Recovery from trauma injuries--cuts or abrasions–is slower. Blood chemistry is quite robust, yet tissues do not regenerate in some cases. All in all, I found nothing new, having examined Vad Varo many years ago and finding the same results. When his Jasoomian body began to fail with "old age" I solved that problem by cloning a body from the cells of Dar Tarus--a healthy body that did not have a brain, but did have a perfect receptacle for his brain. I could not duplicate that feat for Dejah Thoris because her brain was equally affected by the chemical agents destroying her nervous system.
It was Thasa Ras who, after Junie Watts and Maj Lantor said good night, provided the answer. "Would that you could clone a body for her as you did for Vad Varo, one with a brain, and transfer her thoughts and memories onto that blank slate. But that is impossible."
Momentarily transfixed by that comment, I leaned down to kiss the rough hide of my wife's calot face. "Is it?"
Maj Lantor assisted me during a month long experiment with soraks. Soraks are pets in most Barsoomian households, lap warmers sometimes affectionate, usually haughty and aloof. Thasa Ras had no use for soraks and, as a calot, often considered wild soraks as snacks, but she had suggested that soraks, while being animals, did have a level of brain activity which almost passed for sentient thought and memories.
We trained two sets of animals with certain routines rewarded by bits of food if a predetermined course of actions occurred. When the results were predictable, meaning the actions had been learned, the second phase of the experiment commenced.
I have a superior brain. I cannot help that. My brain is what it is. I have long known that my telepathic abilities are greater than all others, so great in fact that I have consciously erected filters to keep down the babble of telepaths (Barsoomians are telepathic, forming 99% of our language). As great is the knowledge I have accumulated over the 1,000 years of my first body and the centuries since in this second body, hardly a tenth of my brain is in use. I know the trick of reading memories from the newly dead, once used by the Royal Physiologists of Zodanga under the reign of the late and unlamented Zat Arras whereby information regarding the Jed's enemies was learned. With the soraks I put that knowledge, which is now forbidden on Barsoom, to the test. The premise is simple: Record the thoughts of one sorak, the trained one, and implant the memories and brain activity of that creature into one untrained. The actual procedure is quite difficult as the only "recording device" is my brain.
Experimentation proved that I could enter and record the thoughts of one sorak and place them in the mind of a second. However there were problems. The first sorak died. The second sorak had the memories of the first, but also had its own and went insane in a self-destructive fashion--a short circuit leading to massive stroke and death. Though I was reluctant, I repeated the experiment two more times and gazed unhappily at the six small cold bodies in the cages on the work bench.
Maj Lantor scowled. "It seemed so promising!"
Thasa Ras observed, through that mental link that only we share, "Barsoomian brains cannot accept overlays."
A month had passed. I was no closer to a solution than when Dejah Thoris came to me.
Junie Watts joined me at breakfast today. "You cannot give up, Ras Thavas."
"My dear Junie Watts, I have exhausted all avenues. There is nothing more I can do."
"I listened to you and Maj Lantor. Growing a new body for Dee and putting all of her thoughts into a blank brain is the only way. I know this. You know this. You have also proved that Barsoomian brains won't do this. Have you considered that a Jasoomian brain might work?"
"Unlikely. Our brains are very similar in form and function, else cross-fertilization would not be possible between our species."
"But they are not alike! Test it on me."
"Impossible. You are not telepathic--at least not telepathic in the same sense as the people of my world. You can speak mind to mind, but only directly. I cannot otherwise read your mind, only those conscious thoughts you intend to share."
"Exactly, sir. Our minds are different."
I pondered her words for a moment. "Let us say, for the sake of argument, that it is possible. How would we test this? I am not willing to experiment on human beings, nor do I believe Dee would want that."
"No experiment," the girl lay her hand on my arm, peering steadfastly into my eyes. "I have had a long and happy life, a life I would not have had except for Dejah Thoris. No human experiment other than me. I want you to give me one of those sorak memories you've recorded. You absorbed those without injury. I doubt one would harm me."
"I cannot take that chance."
"You do not have a choice. I demand it for my friend."
Three days of argument resulted in my acquiescence. Junie Watts was sedated to reduce her brain's natural shielding which made her opaque to Barsoomian telepaths. I entered her mind and implanted the tiny memory of the first sorak into her brain and then intently monitored her condition as she came out from the sedation.
"I feel no different," Junie Watts said upon waking.
"Your vital signs are all normal. Let us go to the laboratory where the experiment was set up and see what you know. There were three training sessions. The memory I implanted was from one you did not attend."
Junie Watts eagerly led the way. In the laboratory she went to the set up and without hesitation keyed in the appropriate steps and laughed when a tidbit of food dropped into the tray. "I'm not hungry! It worked!"
"Yes," I replied. "It appears it did. The next step is to see if Jasoomian cells will clone as truly as Barsoomian."
For three days I avoided Junie Watts at the end of the cloning test. I faced a moral dilemma. I could not allow the good-hearted Jasoomian to influence me.
The cloning was successful, it even replicated Maj Lantor's longevity changes at the cellular level, an indication that a fully mature clone would have the same health and long life that Junie Watts appeared to have. I terminated the clone process long before a fully formed fetus appeared then struggled with these thoughts: Would Dejah Thoris want her brain in a Jasoomian body? In one respect I believed she would because that would guarantee fertility between her and John Carter. Would Dejah Thoris be happy in the body of not only a different species but a different race? I believed the princess of Helium was color-blind, but did not know that for a fact. Would John Carter accept his wife in a Jasoomian body, a black one?
Thasa Ras nudged the back of my leg as we walked through the underground corridors of Thaandor. "Look at me."
I looked at the great calot by my side. I saw her face as I last remembered it on the operating table. Such a beautiful woman! "I am pre-occupied, dearest."
"I know. I also know what you are thinking...that is, I know what you are struggling with. Look at me, husband. Who or what do you see?"
I smiled. "You, wife. You."
"That's what he will see, just as Valla Dia sees Vad Varo in his new body. He has not changed because all that is Vad Varo still remains--his thoughts, his heart, his zest for life. John Carter will see his Dejah Thoris. She will not care as long as she can be with him."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because of the body I wear. My thoughts are mine. My feelings are mine. My love and hate for you is still true and mine. What, I ask you, is the alternative?"
I spoke to Junie Watts in detail. "Are you willing to donate the cells necessary to clone a body for Dee?"
"Will you be willing to leave Thaandor and come to New City of Thavas for that procedure?"
"If necessary. It is not possible to take the cells and do it later?"
"No. There is a very narrow window of opportunity in the process. The cells must be fresh. My other choice is to grow the body here in Thaandor and then transport it across the planet."
"Not very convenient," she smiled. "Well," she said with a suddenness that startled Maj Lantor, who had joined us for this conference, "when do we leave?"
"As soon as possible."
Our way from Thaandor to Thilum was thoat back. I left the case which contained my portable laboratory behind as a gift to Maj Lantor for his help and assistance. What I needed was in my head and the container for the materials which would save Dejah Thoris rode beside me with head held high, her black hair shining in the sun.
Torvaan Rok gave me a very well-drawn map of the terrain between Thaandor and Thilum, which was the nearest human habitation. The journey would take five days by fast thoat, which I projected to take six because of my companion. It took considerably longer and at a higher cost than expected.
The morning of our second day from Thaandor a 20 man flier appeared overhead, moving slowly in our wake. It did not overtake us, nor did it change direction. Thasa Ras hissed and said:
"This does not bode well, husband!"
"Agreed. There is no place to hide in this flat terrain. We cannot outrun them or prevail against their cannon."
Junie Watts had noted the airship. "Can they be having trouble, Ras Thavas?"
"I do not think so. It is keeping station with us."
"I do not recognize it. The ship is not from Thilum."
"Nor any nation I recognize. Be prepared to run, Junie Watts."
By noon there was still no place which could be defended. The airship had reduced altitude to a handful of ads above the scarlet moss. The men on the ship made no effort at concealment. I counted six on deck. I could not tell how many were on board. There was no doubt we would soon have trouble. The ambush came from an unexpected direction as we entered a series of dunes. Eight men rose from concealment and rushed to encircle us. Thasa Ras, brave heart!, sprang into combat with blinding speed. Two went down under the savage bite of her horrific jaws before my radium pistol accounted for two more. The other four, afoot, had no hope of catching us as Junie Watts and I raced away on the thoats.
An angry shout was heard from the airship. A radium shell detonated in advance of our direction, the thoats broke stride. I dropped to the ground and faced the rapidly closing airship. They had not wished to kill us but I had no reciprocal compunction. I fired six rounds. Five hit the airship, one into the mass of men that lined the gunwale. Mortally wounded with both Eighth Ray buoyancy tanks ripped open, the ship sagged until the bow grounded and the forward motion slammed the aft section to the earth.
Thasa Ras disappeared as I ran to the stricken ship. Of the villainous crew none were alive, but in an interior compartment I came upon a poor mutilated wretch. I carried his moaning body outside and looked up as Junie Watts herded my thoat toward the ship. There was no fear on her face, though her eyes were wide with excitement.
"Are they dead?"
"What of the others? Who is that?"
"Do not worry about the others," I told the black woman. Thasa Ras had reported the other four were now dead and she was returning. "I don't know, but he looks familiar."
Junie dismounted and came close. She knelt and looked upon the man's battered face. "Galek! That's Milieos' pilot!"
Galek was ill-used. I managed to get some water down his throat and it seemed to revive him. His eyes focused on me with confusion. "You're free of those others," I said.
He noticed Junie Watts. "I'm sorry."
"Thaandor. They tortured me to find him..."
Galek passed out. I tried to revive him to gain more information but further examination indicated he was ruptured inside. His abdomen was swollen from interior bleeding. Galek passed shortly after Thasa Ras rejoined us.
"Wait here," I ordered Junie Watts and Thasa Ras.
My investigation of the dead men turned up nothing other than the fact there was no identifying metal on any of their harnesses. The ship gave no clues. I was beginning to feel rage as I collected two radium rifles and a pouch of ammunition.
Junie Watts' "Who?" was answered with: "I don't know. Given present events, Thilum might not be our best choice."
"Poor Galek. Which way, Ras Thavas?"
This woman had heart! "Jhuma, the long way."
As with other explorations, I have not kept up daily entries where there was nothing to report other than the passing of haads. Today is our twenty-sixth night camp. It is not a happy time.
Near noon another flier attacked us, but this time we were sheltered by a mass of rocks. The ship landed beyond a hill and I knew it as only a matter of time before men came into the rocks to pry us out. Thasa Ras, equipped with formidable natural weapons and a superb body designed for destruction, slipped from our camp as afternoon shadows lengthened. She reported on the movements of five men, telling me where they were located. "I'll check on the ship."
Long moments passed. The sun neared the horizon. Then hell broke loose. Not at our defensive location but at the airship! Across the distance I sensed Thasa Ras in combat with the ship's crew and was dismayed when the vessel began to rise above the hill. In the last rays of the sun I saw Thasa Ras lunging at a man, then the ship was enveloped in a hot ball of flame! I shouted her name then cursed as rifle shells peppered the rocks about us. For a tense, though mercifully brief, time I was occupied with killing and did not let my attention sway until that task was completely accomplished. To make sure I went out to count the bodies. One of the men was still alive, but not for long.
"Who sent you?"
"Someone who wants you dead."
"We ask no names if the weight of the pouch is proper."
"Spend it in hell."
I left him there, back broken and bleeding to death. Junie Watts stifled a scream as I returned. "Mount up. We have to follow the flier. The calot is on that ship."
The moons of Barsoom were in the sky, giving enough illumination that objects on the ground stood out with twin shadows moving at markedly different speeds. In a straight line I followed the now dark airship hovering a hundred ads above the ground and carried south by the wind at the best speed Junie Watts could maintain on her thoat. All the while I called out Thasa Ras' name through our telepathic link. Junie Watts heard only silence and the muffled gallop of the thoats pads on the soft moss.
Half the night we followed that drifting hulk, seeing no sign of life, human or calot. There was no response to my calls. At midnight I drew to a halt, dismounted, and lifted Junie Watts to the ground.
"We're going the wrong way," I said.
"The calot. Dead?"
My heart broke, but I kept my emotions within. "I fear that is true. We'll camp here. Tomorrow we resume our journey.
My melancholy is immense. My wife, dead. I'm not sure I can sleep.
Jhuma near proved our deaths. Junie Watts and I entered the small transport hub a zode after sunrise 12 days after Thasa Ras was lost. I returned the thoats to the man who sold them to me, taking a beating in the sale. On the way to the airship terminal a small flier dove on us, firing a dozen or more rounds into the square. We ran for a building as did dozens of others. I heard a number of weapons nearby begin firing and wondered who was on the ground trying to kill us.
Then the firing stopped.
A dozen heartbeats later I heard voices shouting, women wailing. I dared look out and saw citizens of Jhuma rushing to aid those wounded in the attack. Emerging from a building to the left I saw the padwar who had commanded the gate to Milieos' fortress. Across the street a warrior of Helium and, from the building to the right one of my own, a than in the navy of Thavas!
All three converged at a run. Than Hanta, one of the cruiser Rasar's escort pilots, arrived first. "Thank Issus you are safe!"
"Thank you--and you and you," I said to the others. "Can you tell me who has been trying to kill me for the last month and a half?"
Hanta spoke for the others. "Apparently several groups. One appears to be Toonolian, another from Zodanga, and a group of bandits. We've had no report on the latter in quite some time, though they murdered a few early on. We assume one group wanted your wealth, Zodanga wanted you dead to keep from healing Dejah Thoris, and war with Toonol has been with us for more years than we care to remember. Dator Milieos first warned us of the bandits, it seems one of his people was kidnaped after taking you somewhere. John Carter's intelligence learned of the Zodangan plot. Tan Hadron later unearthed the Toonolian assassination order. More than a thousand men from all three cities have been searching for you."
"I have been found. I must return to New City of Thavas as quickly as possible."
"Sir!" Than Hanta saluted. "I have transport at the terminal."
The man from Helium offered his salute. "Our ship is larger and faster. We can carry your escort ship on board. Your orders are our orders for as long as necessary."
"Arrange it, Than Hanta. Now. I would speak with the padwar of Thilum." After the two hurried away, I gave my report of Galek's death and my thanks for Milieos' hand in our last minute rescue.
Junie Watts and I, with the padwar, quickly walked to the air terminal. At the Heliumetic ship I returned Thilum's salute. Boarding, Than Hanta looked around. "Where is Thasa Ras?"
"Dead. Leave us depart as soon as the ship is ready." I turned to the man of Helium and asked, "My cabin?" I said nothing more until the door closed on the compartment. I sat on the bunk and held my head in my hands. "Damn!" I sobbed, beginning to allow myself to grieve.
I had forgotten Junie Watts until her hand gently gripped my shoulder.
Growing a human body from a few cells is no easy task. I had to abort the first process when a fluke malignancy appeared early. The second, started ten days later, proceeded as expected. Once I was sure the clone would complete, I suggested that Junie Watts, who had been a guest in my apartment since our arrival at New City of Thavas, could return home, escorted by one of our cruisers.
"I'll go, if that is your command," the Jasoomian said as we dined in private. "I'd rather not, if I am asked."
I knew what she wanted me to ask. She had been ever so supportive of the man who grieved for a beloved pet. How could she know that my wife's brain was in the calot's body? What would she think?
"You should go."
"And you should not be alone." Junie Watts rose, tall, beautiful, her black skin shining in the fragrant brasier's light.
I did not refuse when she sat on my lap, nor did I turn my head to avoid her kiss. Nor did I stop myself from taking her in my arms and acting as a man. After that night there was no question of her leaving and when John Carter arrived, I was glad Junie Watts stood at my side.
The great warlord came to me not in hia capacity as the military leader of Barsoom but as a man concerned with his wife's well-being. He listened to my medical advice, my plans, my intent, but all the while I spoke he looked at Junie Watts, her face and figure, her manner. Before I was finished John Carter raised his hand and asked:
"Will Dejah Thoris be herself?"
"The shell will change, John Carter, but that which animates Dejah Thoris will be transferred intact."
"And what will happen to the copy?"
"If you make a recording of my wife's life in your brain when you transfer it will it all transfer or will you have a duplicate?"
I replied without hesitation. "All, sir."
"I miss my wife."
"I completely understand. I have missed my wife for quite some time."
John Carter was allowed in the room when it was time to transfer Dejah Thoris' thoughts and memories to the fully mature clone. He watched in silence as I adjusted the suspension in the vat holding his wife's brain. Preservatives were gradually replaced until my thoughts could reach hers.
"Awake, Dejah Thoris."
"Ras Thavas? Where am I? I cannot see."
I explained. When I finished I heard what Thasa Ras predicted. "I want my life back. I want my husband. If you say he is here now and has agreed, then the longer we wait, the longer before I can see him!"
I reduced the nutrient flow, placing Dejah Thoris back into a thought free state. I began recording her thoughts, her personality, ambitions, dreams, nightmares, fears, phobias, I recorded all the passion, the sweet lust, the fearlessness, all of what made Dejah Thoris the princess of Helium, a unique individual.
The overlay, as Thasa Ras named, was heavy, almost a physical weight that beat upon my strength and ability, but once started I could not cease until every last vestige was collected. And when I thought I could bear no more, when I could not longer feel Junie Watts concerned grip on my hand, I had the full essence of Dejah Thoris in my mind!
"Do it!" a warm breath in my ear gently urged. "Do it, love!"
There was an instant of confusion as I tried to recall what must be done.
"Transfer! Do it now!"
The mental link to the clone was something practiced. I interfaced immediately and began imprinting as swiftly as I could. I felt a raging fire in my brain, my body, as if my metabolism was increased a hundred-fold.
"Do it, Ras Thavas!"
The pristine mind of the clone began to take shape and order. Each facet melded seamlessly with another and another, until there was a spark, a dim light growing stronger and stronger until it burned as brightly as an unhooded radium bulb.
"Finish! Finish before you are consumed!"
I listened to that voice even as I transferred the last memories, the most recent, including those of our brief conversation brain in vat to my brain.
I did not recognize my voice. "The transfer is complete. She will remain sedated for another day. I must rest."
John Carter gripped my hand as Junie Watts led me from the chamber. "Thank you!"
"Let us see what tomorrow brings."
I fought two images, as if two minds attempted to use the same physical resource. I needed Junie Watts' help. She refused to allow Jusaj to help me undress. She sent my majordomo away and stripped me naked. She tucked me into a pile of soft sleeping silks and furs. Her soft body warmed me as I lay shivering. She kissed me and that heated contact provided a focus that made the other voice grow less raucous. And when the intensity of that kiss increased that voice went silent.
Dejah Thoris looked up from the table with tears in her eyes because the first face she saw was her Virginian. Junie Watts stood to one side. Dejah Thoris reached out a hand, as black as Junie Watts', and drew the Jasoomian to her breast.
"Thank you!" the wife of John Carter whispered over and over.
I touched John Carter's shoulder, gesturing we should withdraw. He frowned as I drew him into the hallway. "Give them time to cry. Women are not emotionally built like men. It was your face that she needed to see but it is Junie Watts who will help Dejah Thoris believe. The transplanting of brains proved to me many years ago that the shell is nearly as important as the mind and heart. Your wife has lived with the fear her shell would cease to function long before her natural time."
"You speak as if you know her mind. Tell me, Ras Thavas, what is her mind like?"
"I was only a medium of transfer, John Carter. I have few conscious thoughts from Dejah Thoris' mind."
I smiled at the warlord and gripped his shoulder. "It is your turn. If this change in appearance truly means nothing, be sure she knows that. It is you around which her entire life is bound. Go to her."
Eight days later the prince and princess of Helium boarded a grand battleship that nearly dwarfed the massive Defense Tower of Thavas. At the rail two figures, arm in arm, waved goodbye, one massive, a fighter, his skin white, the other slender, regal, her skin black.
Junie Watts, her black arm linked through my red one, stood beside me on the balcony of my apartment as we returned the wave at a distance. Majestically the ships of Helium cast off and moved away in stately formation.
Now that we were alone I picked up Junie Watts and carried her to the sleeping platform. She giggled impishly as I tossed her into the silks and furs and covered her body with mine, her lips with kisses. Breathlessly, I held myself above her dark face, gazed upon her white teeth, her expressive eyes. "You saved my life. How did you know?"
"I still have the rat cat in my brain," she replied. Making a face and smiling, she laughed. "A terrible itch! How is it with you and Dejah Thoris?"
"A recording, dear heart. She does not speak, she does not think, but she is there and known more intimately than I have known any woman."
"I'd ask you to record me so you know how I feel about you, but that would mean sharing you with my best friend. I think I'll try this method for a while."
Junie Watts kissed me, hard. I nuzzled her neck. I put my arms about her, holding the eager Jasoomian tight. We made love.
I awoke in the middle of the night with a start as a heavy body leapt upon the bed. Almost immediately Junie Watts' scream changed from alarm to happy greeting when Jusaj, breathing hard and looking extremely apologetic, turned on the light.
Junie Watts threw her arms about the neck of a large hunting calot which lay across our legs, jaws open and tongue lolling. "Thasa Ras!" the black woman cried. "Where did you come from?"
"Indeed, wife. Where did you come from?"
"Time you did something about your love life, husband."
I flushed as Thasa Ras licked Junie Watts' face. "I thought you were dead!"
"So did I for a time. But I wasn't. It took some time to walk 4,000 haads, but I'm home."
To the world my wife had been missing for more than two centuries. My people would have welcomed Junie Watts. But a man cannot have two wives at the same time...or no sane man. I did not immediately send Junie Watts to Thilum, that would have been poor form considering how close we had become but the girl did go home and not with a broken heart. She was more practical in that regard.
"Is she gone?"
"Yes, Thasa Ras. Junie Watts is gone."
I listened to my wife's cutting remarks and expressions of betrayal for a zode. She had been under terrific strain since leaving the shattered airship and making her way across the wilds of Barsoom, avoiding contact with humans and fighting predators as required. She believed me when I said we followed the airship half the night.
"If you really loved me you would have followed it forever!"
"I would have, if I had not believed you dead. I do not apologize, I did nothing wrong. Junie Watts is a lovely woman, but she deserves a man who is not married, especially one married to such a rascally calot."
I wrestled with Thasa Ras and touched her body in way I had never done before. The most successful predator on the face of the planet suddenly stiffened in an arched pose. I heard laughter in my mind.
"Stop that! You're tickling me!"
"So I am. Learned it from Dejah Thoris." I relented just a little.
I sensed a frown the calot's expression could not make. "You talked of tickling calots in the midst of her dilemma?"
"No, she told me. In my brain. Understand, Thasa Ras, that your feminine wiles may not work so well in the future. I have the life experience of a much more mature and devious woman in my memories. I won't be so easy to fool."
Thasa Ras hissed with exasperation. "That's not fair! You always know more than I do!"
I laughed, glad to have her back. "Of course, dear. That's why they call me the Master Mind of Barsoom."
* * * * *
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