David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2004
Cover Illustration: Tangor
Copyright © 2003
Ras Thavas looked up as loud voices came from outside his office. He paused removing marsh parasites his calot had collected during their morning hunt and called out. "What is it, Jusaj?"
The voices fell silent. A moment later the master mind's major-domo opened the door and stepped inside, holding the door shut behind him. "Master..." Jusaj began.
Ras Thavas smiled, for there was no look of urgency on the man's face, only guarded exasperation he quickly identified. "I presume Odwar Tan Hadron has returned?"
"Send him in."
Tan Hadron, once a prince of Hastor, a city/state of Helium, scowled darkly as he stepped past Jusaj into the sunny office of the first citizen of New City of Thavas. The commander of Thavas' small military was a voice powerful in his adopted city and was, in many respects, the right hand man of the master mind of Barsoom.
Ras Thavas stopped the officer's speech with a hand gesture, removed the final parasite from the calot's hindquarters, then rose to wash his hands in a small lavatory in the private bath to the left. Upon returning to his office Ras Thavas spoke first.
"Please extend my apologies to your messenger for sending him away without delivering your message--and by association of that act--my apology for not accepting your message at that time. You see, there is only one time of day to observe the mating of certain irridescent winged insects and..."
Odwar Tan Hadron interrupted the master mind's polite speech by removing a leather portfolio from his carry bag and slamming it on the desk of Ras Thavas. "I do not give a damn about mating insects, Ras Thavas. I give a damn about doing my job. Most of the time I can get it done on my own initiative--that's why you placed me in this position--but there are times I cannot act without your support or guidance. This happens to be one of those times."
Ras Thavas walked around his desk and sat down. He placed a hand on the portfolio and grinned. "And what is so important, Tan Hadron? You and your band of valiant airmen and soldiers have brought peace to nearly all of the Toonolian Marsh and, I dare say, a significant portion of the lands surrounding it. How was your trip to Helium? Did you give my regards to the Warlord?"
Tan Hadron's eyes narrowed even more unyieldingly. "I did. And he gave me that. Read it."
When the Odwar of New City of Thavas did not take a chair, or unbend by the least amount, Ras Thavas began to frown as he picked up the portfolio. He opened to the first of three pages written in Carter's own hand in English, his native tongue. Ras Thavas ignored the five pages written in Phundahlian text and the two and a half pages in Toonolian text because he had learned to read and speak English many years earlier. When he finished, Ras Thavas lay the pages down and folded his hands on top.
"This is grave news, indeed. The last time the Morgors came to Barsoom from Jupiter, as John Carter calls Sasoom in his language, it was to invade and they very nearly accomplished it." Ras Thavas turned his attention to the papers once again. "Invisible space ships, weaponry similar to ours...and willing to fight without regard for casualty or loss--on either side. It took the combined efforts of twenty nations to repel the invaders."
"Which brings me to this..." Tan Hadron removed a single sheet of paper and slid it across the polished skeel wood desk.
Ras Thavas recognized the report, copies of which he received once a week from Odwar Tan Hadron's aide:
NEW CITY OF THAVAS - AIR AND LAND FORCES
|Vosar||Aardal, Dwar||A3F1||Cruiser||6||60||38||3 G||8||26700||9856||334||123|
|Pinsar||Baza, Padwar||A3||Cruiser||5||49||36||3 G||8||26700||9856||334||123|
|Vos 5||Thasor, Othan||A3||Recon||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Vos 6||Enzak, Othan||A3||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Vos 7||Rihan, Than||A3||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Vos 8||Damos, Othan||A3||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Vos 9||Kotok, Othan||A3||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Pin 2||Medis, Than||A3||Recon||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Pin 4||Cardos, Othan||A3||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||4||21360||7885||534||197|
|Pin 5||Idzu, Than||A3||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||4||20575||7595||514||190|
|Pin 6||Masul, Othan||A3||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||4||20575||7595||514||190|
|Pin 9||Rafak, Othan||A3||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||4||20575||7595||514||190|
|Olath||Tusard, Padwar||A3||Assault||2||18||134||2 R||7||12683||4682||181||67|
|Kotok||Lojas, Padwar||A3||Assault||2||19||134||2 R||7||12816||4731||183||68|
|Nurlo||Nasrad, Othan||A3||Supply||2||20||2||2 R||20||35244||13010||176||65|
|Kajid||Bushek, Othan||A3||Supply||2||17||2||2 R||20||34176||12616||171||63|
|Kalsar||Hajpol, Dwar||A2F||Cruiser||4||44||38||2 G||8||25750||9505||322||119|
|Josar||Lukan, Padwar||A2||Cruiser||3||35||33||2 G||8||24825||9164||310||115|
|Kal 1||Ergan, Othan||A2||Recon||1||2||0||1 G||3||15750||5814||525||194|
|Kal 2||Vajen, Othan||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15750||5814||525||194|
|Kal 4||Olsis, Than||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15750||5814||525||194|
|Kal 7||Dapad, Than||A2||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||3||14800||5463||493||182|
|Jo 2||Rapho, Othan||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15400||5685||513||189|
|Jo 4||Vorvo, Othan||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15400||5685||513||189|
|Jo 6||Gozak, Than||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15400||5685||513||189|
|Jo 7||Terav, Than||A2||Recon||1||2||0||1 G||3||16000||5906||533||197|
|Jo 8||Tapis, Than||A2||Escort||1||2||0||1 G||3||15250||5629||508||188|
|Salora||Jalrath, Padwar||A2||Assault||2||17||120||2 R||7||12683||4682||181||67|
|Phaisak||Dajad, Othan||A2||Supply||2||18||3||1 R||18||31960||11798||178||66|
|Musar||Pojo, Padwar||A1F||Cruiser||4||37||32||1 G||7||23549||8693||336||124|
|Rasar||Dara, Padwar||A1||Cruiser||3||38||34||1 G||7||21293||7860||304||112|
|Mu 1||Cosnus, Othan||A1||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||2||9950||3673||498||184|
|Mu 3||Durmar, Than||A1||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||2||9950||3673||498||184|
|Mu 4||Solna, Than||A1||Recon||1||3||0||1 G||2||9875||3645||494||182|
|Ra 2||Naigan, Than||A1||Recon||1||3||0||1 G||2||9925||3664||496||183|
|Ra 3||Posil, Than||A1||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||2||9875||3645||494||182|
|Ra 4||Lorab, Than||A1||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||2||9875||3645||494||182|
|Ra 5||Hanta, Than||A1||Escort||1||3||0||1 G||2||9875||3645||494||182|
|Jatras||Ulsar, Padwar||A1||Assault||1||10||72||1 R||6||10250||3784||171||63|
|Zamad||Solara, Padwar||A1||Supply||1||12||1||1 R||12||18000||6645||150||55|
PERSONNEL LEVELS BY DEPLOYMENT
65 Ships - 461 Naval - 679 Assault
A3F1 is Fleet Flag. A3 (Primary) can be replenished two (2) times in field. A1 & A2 only one (1) time in field. Jasoomian measures compare Helium specifications.
TOTAL PERSONNEL, ALL UNITS: 1205
The master mind looked over the top of the report with a quizzical eye. "And?"
"I need your scientific help, sir. And funds."
Ras Thavas sighed. "We've been over this many times, dear friend. New City of Thavas is not Helium or Hastor or Gathol, or any of a dozen other major nations with huge treasuries to support immense armadas of fighting ships. We are a city of peace. Our military is for..."
Tan Hadron impolitely interrupted Ras Thavas. "Which is the reason why there is only an Odwar in charge of one of the best-trained, best equipped fighting forces on the planet. We volunteered to keep officer ranks low and require secondary skills in all members, thus salaries for standing forces is extremely low. You misunderstand, sir, I don't want to expand our fleet. I want to convert it."
Ras Thavas arched a brow and leaned back to stroke his chin with interest at the man's choice of words and demeanor. "Convert it, how?"
The Odwar of Thavas produced a second leather portfolio, much thicker than the first. "Herein is all the technical data John Carter could gather regarding the space ships of Gar Nal and Fal Sivas. This," another portfolio was placed before the master mind, "is a portion of the plans for Fal Sivas' telepathically operated mechanical brain--incomplete but all that could be found."
Ras Thavas did not open either of the reports. "Interesting, but why show these to me? Our efforts at space travel ended when Helium's space ship Barsoom was lost on its maiden voyage to Jasoom centuries ago. The properties of the Eighth Ray, which we use to lift our ships, does not reliably function outside the influence of the planet's gravitational field."
"Which is why I need you to decipher this." Tan Hadron produced yet another report, apparently the last since he let the carry bag drop beside his chair.
There were four pages inside the leather cover. The hand which wrote the mathematical symbols was imprecise, hurried it seemed, but to a scientist of Ras Thavas' standing and brilliance, the sense and meaning of the formulae was instantly apparent. With growing excitement Ras Thavas continued to read, occasionally uttering a startled "Of course!" or "Utterly brilliant!" until he reached the last page, which was incomplete and smeared with a dark stain that had the appearance of dried blood.
Ras Thavas looked up, his eyes blazing with curiosity. "This can't be all! Where is the rest of it?"
Neither man noticed the calot lifting it's hideous head from the floor. They did not see the creature's limbs tense or the way it's eyes seemed to watch something crossing the room from the balcony's open window. Even it they had they would have seen nothing, not even a shadow, yet the calot's attention was unwavering.
The calot suddenly hissed a warning and leapt toward the side of the master mind's desk. The creature's jaws closed about something invisible--something that oozed blood and cried out. A savage shake of the calot's head silenced that scream. Even as Tan Hadron drew his sword to face what could not be seen, the calot raced to the window and launched its powerful body into space, two stories above the street.
"Thasa Ras!" the master mind shouted with confusion. He rushed to the window, only to trip over something unseen, something that struggled beneath him.
Tan Hadron, however, was not as confused as his leader. "John Carter warned me. Hold him, master! I will help the calot!"
Ras Thavas felt stick-thin powerful arms fighting his embrace. He found all his attention occupied with subduing the invisible intruder. A piece of clothing was torn in the struggle and skin was revealed. A more determined rent exposed the attacker's midsection which received three hammer-hard blows from the master mind. As the intruder doubled over, Ras Thavas ripped away the rest of the concealing garment to expose the skeletal frame of a Morgor of Sasoom.
Jusaj and two guards ran into the office, startled by the Morgor which Ras Thavas secured with a window sash and the more astonishing sight of Odwar Tan Hadron and the master mind's calot apparently standing in thin air beyond the balcony!
Tan Hadron barked an order. "Throw me a line. We must secure this ship before the wind carries it off!"
Even as Jusaj and the guards took the Morgor into custody, Ras Thavas swiftly gathered all the papers on his desk and stuffed them into Tan Hadron's bag. He tucked the bag under an arm and watched from one side as the odwar's aide and a padwar entered the room, breathing heavily from their sprint up the spiral ramps from the ground floor. A mooring line was tossed to the odwar, who made it fast to an unseen object. The aide and officer hauled on the line until only a sofad lay between the window and the calot and Tan Hadron.
The calot leapt into the room, looking satisfied with itself. Tan Hadron stepped onto the balcony, his first glance to the desk. He noted the case under Ras Thavas' arm, nodding. Tan Hadron took charge, giving orders to the padwar who left at a dead run. Turning to Jusaj, the odwar said: "No one knows of this or speaks of it! I cannot impress upon you more strongly than the fate of our world relies on your complete and utter silence. And, because you have seen what you have seen, I ask that you accompany me with the prisoner to the Tower of Defense. This must be done without arousing comment or observation."
Jusaj replied, "These are good men and will serve well as jailers, since I believe you want to keep this as quiet as possible. But I will not leave Ras Thavas."
Tan Hadron saw the man's determination. "Agreed. Your master will need you now more than ever."
Ras Thavas began to leave the office with the rest. Tan Hadron placed a hand on the master mind's chest, shaking his head. "Stay where you can be protected."
"I must go where I can do work, my concerned friend. Jusaj, gather whatever you need. We are going to the laboratory."
Tan Hadron scowled. "Yes, I suppose you must. I'll send a squad over to..."
Ras Thavas replied in the negative. "I am better protected by the calot, as you well know. Besides, any change in our regular routines might alert other eyes. We can't know if there was only the one Morgor ship."
A shadow darkened the room momentarily. All eyes looked to the window where Dwar Hajpol's Kalsar hovered. A line was made fast to the invisible ship and Kalsar then moved off, turning to port on a course that would end at one of the Defense Tower's hangers. Tan Hadron watched for a moment, then left the window. "We can't save the world standing here."
"Jusaj, will you stop pacing about? You are very distracting."
"I am just checking the doors, master."
"Well, stop it. Thasa Ras will give us any warning we might need."
Jusaj watched the master mind seated at the long table in the center of the room, which was covered with machines and devices he did not understand but which were a faction of the tools Ras Thavas used for research and invention. At the moment the apparatus was ignored in favor of the four sheets of paper with the blood stain, and the growing pile of paper upon which Ras Thavas worked his own equations--which Jusaj understood even less. The spectacle of his master at work was entertaining only so long before Jusaj's eyes again wandered to the two doors at opposite ends of the laboratory. When he turned to go, Ras Thavas stopped him with a glare.
"How long have you worked for me, Jusaj?"
"You know as well as I, master. Two hundred twenty-three years."
"You, of course, remember my wife."
"Yes. A beautiful woman. All Thavas grieved for your loss when she disappeared. As did I."
Ras Thavas placed his stylus on the table and straightened his back, twisting from side to side to ease tense muscles. "What if I told you she was here and would watch over my safety far better than all of Tan Hadron's warriors?"
Jusaj leveled his gaze as well as his reply. "Then I would say you are a lucky man."
"She is here...or at least her brain is. Thasa Ras the calot is Thasa Ras my wife and the only way for her to get her human form back is to make sure I remain healthy." The major-domo did not seem surprised by the master mind's revelation. So calm was he that Ras Thavas asked: "Did you hear what I said?"
"Sir, I have been your devoted servant in duty as well as privacy. Only two people know that Thasa Ras, twenty five years into her marriage to you, embarked on the creation of artificial life using knowledge she had learned from you. She created a lover in a vat, which you slew after killing two panthans employed as guards by your wife. You transplanted her brain into your hunting calot's body rather than rightfully executing her for the betrayal of her marriage vows and, more importantly, your science. You are one of those people, I am the other."
Ras Thavas looked startled. "Exactly. Verbatim on all accounts. How did you know?"
Jusaj smiled both as servant and friend. "Did you ever wonder who removed the bodies of the dead panthans and the creation?"
"I--" Ras Thavas frowned, thinking back to that day. "After the brain transfer I dismantled her laboratory and--" The master mind rose and placed a hand on Jusaj's shoulder. "Thank you. My mind was distressed and I never noticed. I didn't want to notice."
"Thasa Ras watches over you no less intently than I. I watch over you both. Which is why I will check doors and you will go back to work, and Thasa Ras will sleep with one eye open. Your work awaits, master."
Ras Thavas grinned as Jusaj saluted and walked to the far door. The major-domo tested the locked handle then retraced his steps to the other door.
Tan Hadron examined the tiny model Ras Thavas placed on the table. "What is it?"
"Many things," the master mind replied. "Of immediate interest are two possibilities: Weapon and Propulsion. Observe."
Ras Thavas placed a sompas fruit on a plate. He directed one end of the rod-like device at the sompas and pressed a button on a large box attached to the rod by two thick wires. The sompas disappeared. Tan Hadron blinked his eyes twice, then leaned over the plate.
"Where did it go?"
"It's still there. Pick up the plate."
The odwar's puzzlement increased because the plate was heavy! "What kind of magic?"
"Not magic," Ras Thavas grinned. "Atomic level manipulation. Here, use this magnifying lens. Do you see it?"
"That speck of dust?"
"Correct. Do you have a teepi on you? Good. Put the coin on the second plate."
Ras Thavas made an adjustment on the box and aimed the device at the coin which was one-tenth the standard unit of currency on Barsoom. He pressed the button and, as instantly as the sompas had disappeared, a teepi nearly as wide as a man is tall lay on the table. At the master mind's urging, Tan Hadron gripped the gigantic coin's edge and picked it up--and nearly fell over. He had used an anticipated strength based on the object's size and was startled that it weighed no more than a regular teepi!
"Again I say, 'What kind of magic?'"
Ras Thavas powered down the device and disconnected the wires. "Our unknown scientist friend--does he have a name? If so it will live through the ages--discovered how to manipulate and control gravitation fields of any intensity or size. With the sompas I increased the gravitational pull on the sub-atomic components of each atomic particle, collapsing them by a factor of 100. I reversed the process with the teepi using a factor of 100. As you can see, it works with animate and inanimate objects."
"Very interesting, but how can that be a weapon?"
Ras Thavas' smile faded quickly. "Imagine a setting of 1,000. The sompas would shrink to such size it will pass between the molecules of most substances. We tried several and I suspect they are all at Barsoom's core. The reverse would be equally catastrophic. Gravitation forces would of an object too large become so tenuous that the component atoms would simply break up."
Tan Hadron nodded, suitably impressed. "You mentioned propulsion. How is that possible from the same device?"
"We'll need to field test on something designed to fly, but this should show the possibilities."
Ras Thavas reconnected the wires, but opposite this time around. "Another teepi? Thank you." The master mind aimed the rod at the laboratory ceiling. "This is the lowest setting this prototype can produce. Watch."
The master mind tossed the teepi over the end of the device and a sharp whistle followed instantly by a harsh crack made Tan Hadron look up. Buried in the thick concrete ceiling two ads above were a half dozen teepi. "Astonishing! If this device is mounted on a ship and directed at a fixed body it would move away."
Jusaj chuckled. "It works the other way, too. You can point it at an object and pull it--or your ship--toward each other."
"That effect was what our scientist was hoping to achieve. The atomic level manipulation is merely a facet of the entire theory."
Tan Hadron ran a hand through his hair. "Next question: Can we build these in units large enough to power ships or weapons?"
"A guarded response is 'yes.' Though how big or how powerful can only be determined by building a few."
Dwar Hajpol, commander of the Kalsar, stood at the table set up in the maintanence chief's office of Hanger Two in the Thavas Tower of Defense. Seated next to him was Odwar Tan Hadron and Ras Thavas. Seated on the opposite side of the table were the pilots of the Kalsar's escort screen, the highly manueverable and swift two-man gun ships.
"As you may have guessed, men, the Kalsar is not in for ordinary refit and provisioning."
Othan Vajen allowed a slight smile to his rakishly handsome features. "We knew that the second we were told the Escorts would be serviced last. The navy does not usually let us screen pilots have that much time off."
Than Olsis punched his fellow pilot's shoulder with a growl. "I'm sure the girls Falon's weren't too disappointed. Be quiet. Dwar Hajpol is about to reveal the unusual manner and time of our impending deaths for the glory of Thavas."
Ergan and Dapad chuckled, then sobered quickly when the usual laughing response from Dwar Hajpol did not come. Othan Ergan leaned forward. "Security has been so tight we don't know what's going on. And, sir, that bothers us."
"Then this information will further increase your anxiety. Morgors are back on Barsoom. How long they have been observing us we are not certain, but long enough to find out a few things that, if they could produce it first, would win any war between our planets. Fortunately, we got it first. We also have in custody the sole surviving Morgor of one of their strike ships sent to get the information and to assassinate Ras Thavas." Hajpol saw the high bravura the escort pilots generally displayed replaced with intense concentration. "I don't have to tell you that what you learn today must not leave this room. Ras Thavas?"
The master mind rose. "I have charts and displays, reports and prototypes that I could show you. However, all are under lock and key and secure guard because our tiny city is the great hope of Barsoom--and we are such a small target. In the last ten days two things have become possible: reliable space travel and a super weapon which can destroy entire planets. There is no defense. We have both."
Olsis, the oldest of the young pilots, whistled through his teeth. "Space!"
Ergan, more practical, scowled. "No defense?"
"None that I know of, and you fellows have to admit I'm a pretty smart man." The short round of laughter returned the meeting to business. Ras Thavas continued. "The Kalsar's refit has actually been an upgrade to light battleship qualified for vacuum-level operations. Your patrol craft have also been modified for non-atmospheric use. We are sure it will work. You fellows will be the ones to test the practical side."
Vajen raised his hand. "I best go first, sir. If I die in the testing these ugly boys next to me will at least have half a chance to comfort the grieving girls at Falon's Inn."
Tan Hadron's voice drew eyes. "You were our first choice, Vajen."
Vajen's grin subsided slightly, "As best qualified, or most expendable?"
Odwar Tan Hadron suddenly laughed. "We'll soon find out! Tonight Vajen and Olsis will take Kal 2 aloft. Your destination is Cluros. You will have a target and you will test the weapon, then return. Ras Thavas will give you the technical details. When he is through I'll take you through tactical. Do you have anything to add, Dwar Hajpol?"
"You better bring my hardware back in one piece."
Ras Thavas and Tan Hadron left Hanger Three a zode after Dwar Hajpol took over the meeting. On the way down to the first floor the odwar confidently remarked, "No better men for the job, sir."
"I trust you implicitly in that regard, my friend. Let us hope that your faith in my abilities is equally justified. Meanwhile, shall we have that converation with our guest as you suggested before the meeting?"
"Of course! I'm looking forward to it."
The men descended below street level and beyond, entering the lowest level of the massive tower's foundation. Ras Thavas gazed with interest at the bustle of activity in communications, clerical and, it seemed, military research laboratories. Tan Hadron explained, "Most of what we need we can get from graduates of Thavas or hire from Helium or Gathol."
"I suppose that is why you haven't perviously asked for my help in military matters."
"That, and the less you know the less you can speak about by accident. You are a man of peace. I am a man of war. We have our chosen tasks. Ah, here we are!"
The squad of men outside the closed door came to attention. Tan Hadron returned the salute and instructing "at ease," which the men ignored. "We're here to see the prisoner," Tan Hadron said, removing his pistol, swords, and knife. At his silent suggestion Ras Thavas echoed the odwar. Only when they were completely unarmed did the officer of the guard order the door opened.
"Sir," the officer stopped Ras Thavas by placing the muzzle of his radium rifle across the doorway, "the calot..."
Ras Thavas looked down at his side where the massive head of Thasa Ras jutted forward of his right knee. "She is unarmed, except for that which Nature gave her. The calot comes with me. I never go anywhere without her."
"It's all right, Masrok." Tan Hadron ordered the officer to step aside.
Four more guards were in the room, each without weapons, but their physical fitness and manner of movement suggested they were quite proficient in killing with their bare hands. Seated on a low bed in the corner was the Morgor, hideous in his skeletal appearance, his skin so thin that his internal organs were clearly visible. The prisoner was naked and was human to all external--and internal--appearance. The Morgor was also haughty and insulting.
"Ah, the great Ras Thavas and his beast." The Morgor's deep set eyes glared at the large calot with hatred. "You would have died had it not been for that calot."
Tan Hadron ignored the Morgor's outburst. "What is your name?"
"I tell you nothing."
"What is your mission?"
"Does Sasoom intend another invasion?"
The Morgor made an obscene gesture.
Tan Hadron turned to Ras Thavas. "Short of torture, this is all we can obtain from the prisoner. You have mental abilities beyond that of ordinary men, sir. Is there something you can do?"
Before Ras Thavas could form a response, and a statement that it would be unethical to invade a sentient being's mind, the Morgor's voice rose in a sharp high-pitched scream of terror. The only person moving in the room was the Morgor and he stopped doing that when Thasa Ras' jaws clamped tighter about his crotch.
"Get the beast off me!" the Morgor pleaded.
The door opened. Masrok's eyes widened at the sight of the calot's jaws filled with triple rows of sharp teeth fastened about the Morgor's juncture of legs and body. Tan Hadron knocked down the muzzle of Masrok's rifle, shaking his head. The odwar crossed the room and sat beside the Morgor. In a conversational voice Tan Hadron asked Ras Thavas, "When did you last feed the calot?"
"I don't feed her. She selects her own menu. Looks like Morgor today."
"Call off your beast," the Morgor implored. "Do that and I will answer your questions."
Ras Thavas looked to Tan Hadron. The odwar seemed interested in the status of his fingernails. "Perhaps you best answer the questions first so that Ras Thavas will be inspired in his efforts to get the calot to release your...personality. Do you know how determined a calot can be? We don't consider them the most successful predator on Barsoom without reason."
The Morgor babbled. And continued to babble long after Ras Thavas touched the calot's mane to let go.
The hour was midnight. Vajen and Olsis endured the back pounding from Ergan and Dapad. Vajen scowled good-naturedly. "We would have been back sooner, but Olsis miscalculated the calibration of the gravipulse and sent us a half-million haads beyond Cluros. Wasted a whole xat getting back to our objective."
Olsis grinned. "I seem to remember somebody saying 'Want to go to Jasoom for a real test?'" The two men gripped shoulders, still filled with adrenalin from their mission.
"The device worked as predicted, Ras Thavas," Vajen continued. "Cluros, as a lesser body, required more power and Barsoom, as the larger body, required a proportionally less amount of power. With further testing we should be able to calculate speeds possible with the different planets, but there is no doubt that a voyage to Jupiter would take only days, not weeks or months!"
Olsis' excitement was equally contagious. "Sir, there's no reason why we can't use the gravipulse to travel the stars!"
Tan Hadron nodded. "Let's save that for tomorrow. Today we have more pressing things to accomplish. Ergan--Dapad, orientation flights with Vajen and Olsis. Back by dawn. Tomorrow night the Kalsar goes with you."
The bridge of the Kalsar had completely changed since the last time Ras Thavas inspected the vessel on Navy Day in Thavas. All of the open air lookouts, flagmen stations, and gunnery stations were enclosed. New astronomic navigation devices and ship controls had been installed. The ship itself had a more sinister appearance, a nearly smooth cylindrical shape lacking any of the aerilons and rudders used to steer atmospheric ships. The three main gun batteries had shifted from two forward and one aft to one fore and aft and one in the ship's keel. The long barrels of powerful radium cannon were replaced with short massive barrel shapes protruding from rotating blisters. Two massive airlocks accepted the vacuum-modified escort craft. Three personnel airlocks, two forward and one aft, had been inserted in the Kalsar's tough duralumin skin.
"We're ready to get underway," Dwar Hajpol radioed Thavas Tower of Defense.
"I wish I were going with you," came Tan Hadron's reply. "My regards to the man who said 'no.' Good luck!"
"I heard," Ras Thavas smiled as Dwar Hajpol glanced toward the master mind. "Proceed, sir."
Delaven, the Morgor, scanned the bridge interior with curious eyes. He was not restrained in any fashion, though he was still denied the dignity of adornment or clothing of any kind. Though it was obvious Delaven wished to more closely examine the Kalsar's equipment, he refrained from any movement other than turning head or eyes. At his feet, appearing interested only in licking a foreleg, was the great calot Thasa Ras.
Padwar Masrok grinned at the Morgor's expense. "Seems Thasa Ras has developed a real taste for your company."
Ras Thavas allowed the insults as long as no violence was offered. Morgors were uniformly hated by Barsoomians because of the atrocities commited by the Morgors during their thwarted invasion. Many families across the planet had lost friends and family. The master mind was determined there would be no second invasion, which was the purpose of this flight into space.
A day later the Kalsar was at the edge of the enormous debris field orbiting the system's star between Barsoom and Sasoom. Many of the jagged rocks were hundreds of times larger than the Thavas ship. Dwar Hajpol brought the Kalsar to a stop. Deep in the ship's interior great motors activated. A shudder ran through the keel.
"Kal 2 and Kal 4 are ready for the demonstration, Ras Thavas."
"Good. Follow me, Delaven. I want you to see this so you can make an accurate report. Don't mind the calot, but don't try anything stupid."
At the forward port Dwar Hajpol pointed out the pair of tiny two man escort craft. "These are smallest fighting ships in our navy, Delaven. Each is equipped with a single graviton cannon." The ship's commander turned to the radio operator. "Execute Demonstration One." Delaven's stance became rigid when the largest object in view, a rock perhaps twenty haads in size, disappeared. Hajpol's calm voice said, "Execute Demonstration Two."
For a moment Delaven could see nothing happening. The Kalsar's engines became active for no apparent reason. The two tiny dots of light which were the escort ships seemed to shift positions forward, then back, then forward again. Something moved into the Kalsar's viewport from above, a rock larger than the ship, and then another, moving faster. Farther out the Morgor saw other bits of debris of all sizes converging on a point between the two escort ships. The rocks began to collide and break up, though no debris was released by the impacts. In a short time a huge ball began to form and so intense was the bombardment that the entire mass began to glow as friction and pressures caused rock to heat and melt. When the mass was ten times larger than the one which had vanished, Dwar Hajpol gave the order to cease. Visibly shaken, the Morgor could not tear his sight away from the viewport.
Ras Thavas waited for several moments before nodding to Hajpol. While the dwar issued orders, accompanied by more interior motors and shudders, Ras Thavas took the Morgor by the arm and walked to the very edge of the viewport. "We have saved the best for last, Delaven. There...our other escorts. I want you watch the space between them. Proceed, Dwar Hajpol."
There was nothing, then there was a Morgor ship completely visible! Then it was a cloud of component parts as the ship's steel vanished leaving only that which was not steel. Delaven swayed as if he'd been struck.
Ras Thavas led the Morgor to a seat at the rear of the bridge. The calot came and took a position at the Sasoomian's feet. The master mind spoke to the Kalsar's commander. "Secure the demonstration teams with my thanks. Resume course to Sasoom."
Ras Thavas sat down beside the Morgor. "I am depending on you, Delaven. If you fail to report what you have seen it will be on your head when I, not John Carter or the combined forces of Barsoon, will remove your world. There will be no battle, no glory, no slaughter...your world will simply vanish in the blink of an eye. Or if I am angry, turned into a hell such as no living being has ever seen. The broadcast technology that reveals your ships is already being transmitted to every nation on Barsoom. Get your people off our world, or we will kill them and then come after your planet. I make no threats, only promises most dire. Do we understand each other?"
The Morgor nodded, though even when faced with such evidence of Barsoomian technology, there was a feral gleam in his eyes.
The remainder of the voyage to Sasoom was without incident. As the Kalsar descended through the enormous cloud banks of the gas giant, the Morgor's confidence seemed to return, though he did nothing to cause his captors any concern.
Ras Thavas stood at the viewport. There was nothing to see but dense clouds. He motioned for Delaven to approach. Wary of the calot which paced at his side, the Morgor did as bid.
"Ah!" the master mind exclaimed as the inner clouds parted and a vista of extraordinary size and alien beauty appeared. The edge of an ocean lay to the left. "Lovely! Do you know where we are?"
"That's the Dula River, I believe. Our largest city is north."
Looking over his shoulder, Ras Thavas said, "Adjust course, Dwar Hajpol. North."
The ship maintained altitude beneath the cloud cover, moving at good speed. In the distance a tremendous mountain range with several active volcanoes appeared. Ras Thavas asked if any of Sasoom's inhabitants lived on the slopes of the lava-cloaked volcanoes.
"Not hardly!" was the contemptuous reply.
Moments later the Kalsar slowed under Delaven's instructions. The ship hovered over an immense city. The airspace above the metropolis was crowded with vessels of all sizes, many of them military aircraft. It was toward those that Delaven directed his ardent gaze. Ras Thavas noted the skeleton man's interest.
"Oh, I suppose you expect your fellows to sight our ship and rescue you. I'm afraid that won't happen. We are invisible. Unlike your screens ours cannot be penetrated. Dwar Hajpol, it is time for Demonstration Four."
"Aye, sir! Target?"
"The largest volcano."
The Kalsar's gunnery officer gripped a control handle then pressed a firing stud. The volcano disappeared. The resulting vacuum caused the dense-packed atmosphere to rush into the void, producing a tremendous clap of thunder that knocked many of the Sasoomian airships from the sky, and shook the Kalsar as a hunting calot might shake a silian in the Toonolian Marsh.
Stunned, Delaven hardly noticed when Padwar Masrok bound his hands, or that Othan Vajen stood to one side with a grin on his face. Ras Thavas stepped between the viewport and the Morgor. "These men will drop you off at any location you specify. Choose well, Delaven. This last demonstration was not for you. It was for your leaders. It will up to you to convince them of the other things I have shown you."
"What if they do not believe me?" Delevan shouted as Vajen and Masrok carried the Morgor from the bridge. "What then, Ras Thavas?"
Ras Thavas turned to look out the viewport. In a voice that only the calot heard came the reply: "You don't want to know."
The day was warm. The scent of rotting muck indicating the good health of the Toonolian Marsh was like a perfume of rare extraction to the nostrils of Ras Thavas. By the stance of the calot leaning over the bow of the small boat he could tell that Thasa Ras was equally pleased to be back home.
"When are you going to talk to me, Thasa Ras? How long are you going to be angry with me?"
"I haven't decided."
"Well! That's the first words you've said to me in three years. I could have used your help with the Morgor and all that science stuff."
"You were doing well enough on your own."
The man and calot ghosted beneath the fronds of a giant pimalia growing over the narrow channel between grass-covered mud banks. Voiceless birds of gorgeous plumage took wing when Ras Thavas inadventantly splashed his paddle in the dark water. A few strokes brought them back into the sun again.
"Would you have?" Thasa Ras turned her great tooth-filled head to look at her husband. Their telepathic link was exclusive to them alone.
"Would I have what, darling?"
"Destroyed the Morgors?"
There was no hesitation. "Yes," he said aloud and via mind link.
The calot resumed her forward gaze, bright eyes watching the creatures above and below the water. After a time came a comment delivered with heavy contemplation. "It's not what you thought, is it?"
"What's that, dear?"
"Having the power of life and death over all you survey."
"Having the power is one thing. Knowing when to use it or not is the key. Fortunately I gave up those dreams long before I met you and, because of you, will never act on them."
"Because of me?" The calot snorted with wry amusement. "You know how I feel on that subject. I want to rule Barsoom!"
Ras Thavas smiled, shaking his head. He paddled through the marsh observing the riot of life found only in this last vestige of the mighty oceans of Barsoom.
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